Australia is well placed to reduce emissions at low cost because the costs of carbon-free technologies such as wind and solar have fallen significantly in recent years.
A WWF report produced in collaboration with the Australian National University argues Australia could source 100% of its power from renewables by 2050 – without incurring massive adjustment costs or depressing economic growth – if there were clear and stable national policy settings to support investment in renewables.
Australia’s national climate policy does not extend beyond 2020.
The current commitment is to cut carbon emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, although a number of climate experts query whether the Abbott government’s Direct Action policy will achieve that target.
The Coalition’s desire to cut the existing Renewable Energy Target (RET) has triggered an investment drought in the sector. Despite repeated pleas from the sector and business groups, the standoff over the RET remains unresolved.
The government is expected to set post-2020 emissions reduction targets in June.
Australia has been asked to defend the credibility of the Direct Action climate policy at the United Nations, after several countries submitted questions querying how the policy would reduce carbon emissions.
The world’s two largest emitters – the United States and China – joined other countries in challenging Australia about its emissions reduction target and commitment to renewables.
The WWF/ANU report contends that Australia is well placed to make an orderly and low-cost transition to decarbonisation if the government can send clear and predictable policy and regulatory signals to the market, and resist special pleading from the owners of carbon intensive assets.
The report does not produce new modelling or quantify the costs associated with structural adjustment or abatement, but it synthesises a body of existing research to highlight the fact that it is becoming cheaper to cut carbon emissions.
It argues that renewable technology options are becoming cheaper while fossil fuel alternatives remain static, and that emissions growth is beginning to slow, both regionally and globally.
It points out that China – the main driver of rising global emissions over the past decade – has entered a period of slowing economic growth “and the country is decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, in a deliberate effort to move to a lower-carbon growth model”.
One of the major arguments against decarbonisation over the past decade has been the high cost associated with the move away from fossil fuels. The report says the long view now suggests previous work has overestimated the costs associated with reducing pollution.
It notes specifically that the costs of solar and wind have fallen much faster than anticipated. “For example, large-scale solar panel power stations are already only half the cost that the Treasury’s 2008 and 2011 modelling studies estimated they would be in the year 2030.”
The report says if there were clear and stable policy settings in place to support investment in renewables then Australia could achieve a cost-effective transition to a near-zero carbon system by around 2040.
The costs of mitigation would be reduced further if the government allowed the use of international permits.
The report’s author, Australian National University associate professor Frank Jotzo, said the evidence suggested deep cuts to Australia’s emissions could be achieved at low cost.
“With our abundant renewable resources we are one of the best placed countries in the world for moving to a fully renewable electricity supply,” he said. “Australia can achieve zero net emissions by harnessing energy efficiency, moving to a zero-carbon electricity system, switching from direct use of fossil fuels to decarbonised electricity, and improving industrial processes.”
National manager of WWF, Kellie Caught, said the report sets out what governments need to do. “The solution is clear: set an ambitious long-term goal for reducing carbon pollution, and take decisive action to make it happen.”
‘With our abundant renewable resources we are one of the best placed countries in the world for moving to a fully renewable electricity supply,’ said ANU associate professor Frank Jotzo. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Via The Guardian