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February 28, 2021

Australia will benefit economically from acting on climate

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Jim Tait

In the midst of the climate election there’s been an elephant in the room that all seem to have failed to see – the economic benefits of Australia proactively responding to the climate challenge.

As Scott Morisson claims that inaction is better for our children’s future than action on climate change, owing to costs, we continue to hear the same tired beat-up scare campaign that climate action is too big a risk to the economy. From the Australian Labor Party (ALP) we have heard about the risks to the economy of inaction. Even the Greens’ Richard Di Natale whose Renew Australia platform references the potential to create 180,000 jobs seems compelled to defend the economic impact of his plan by reference to costs of inaction rather than benefits of being proactive.

Economic risk of inaction exposed

However, just yesterday the Australia Institute released a report covered by the Sydney Morning Herald that shows economy-wide modelling conducted over the last five years from 19 reports by academics, government agencies, and consultants, including in peer-reviewed journals, shows ‘high-ambition emission-reduction targets lead to strong ongoing economic growth from 2020 to 2030.’

This evidence is just the tip of the iceberg. Outside the reporting of the decade-long fight between the Liberal National Party (LNP) and ALP on whether to act on climate or not another narrative is forming – that Australia has the potential to be a renewable ‘superpowered’ economy.

Long promoted by progressive climate think tanks like Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) there is now a growing chorus of corporate CEOs and bankers, including Australia’s own Keith Tuffley, who are warming to and promoting the money-making opportunities of transitioning to a net-zero-emissions society.

He says achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will ‘require a massive shift in financial resources and investment in technology towards renewable-energy infrastructure, new transport systems, and energy storage’. Such shifts provide significant economic opportunities.

This is not a fantasy concocted by wishful dreamers, but an assessment formed on solid evidence, international market trends, capital flows, and Australian project investment.

Evidence for Australian superpowers

So, what is the evidence? The first is Australia’s natural advantages. Global wind and solar data get measured by NASA. When you map combined wind and solar generation potential globally Australia sticks out in bold as the sunniest and windiest developed nation on Earth – we are awash with renewable-energy resources.

Beyond the biophysical we also have other competitive advantages. These include vast areas of suitable land, world-leading research institutions, a skilled workforce and industrial sector, proximity to growing Asian markets like Indonesia, China, Korea, Japan, and India, and a secure stable society (so far).

If they’re the advantages what of opportunities?

Well unless you’ve been confined to a News Ltd media diet, you’ll be aware that globally there is an energy transition occurring. The combined economic and biophysical risks associated with fossil fuels are seeing smart money depart their cause while the renewables sector share of the energy market is growing exponentially.

In Australia, renewables companies backed in by the CSIRO and Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) have already demonstrated that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new power generation.

A transition to 100 per cent renewable is not only 100 per cent economically doable. It is also the low-hanging fruit on the quickest path to national emissions reduction.

The renewables industry like many others also benefits from economies of scale. Developing a generation capacity beyond 100 per cent of domestic needs provides a path toward an export industry for the excess in the form of green hydrogen to markets in Japan and Korea.

This proposition is the basis for a multi-billion-dollar Asian Renewable Energy Hub currently being developed in northwestern Australia’s Pilbara. Given the projected market demand for hydrogen in our region identified by chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel and CSIRO development of leading technology for its processing and shipping we’re well placed to cash in on it.

In addition to exporting our renewables to the world we can attract energy-intensive industries including a re-invigorated manufacturing sector to Australia. Just look at Arrium Steel.

We need to move away from our quarry economy. If we don’t, we will get caught with a trade deficit when no-one wants to buy our coal.

We have the world’s largest hard-rock lithium reserves; we can process that and make the batteries here. Not to mention wind turbines and electric vehicles. Such technology is already a sunrise industry in the country with existing manufacture of electric trucks in Victoria and the world’s best car chargers and electric aircraft propulsion units in Brisbane.

The future looks bright even if climate change does not.

So, if Australia does have advantages and opportunities to become a renewable-energy superpower, with secure long-term jobs and exports based on abundant clean energy why haven’t we heard about it?

Perhaps it’s just another victim of the appalling lack of climate policy vision and small target posturing by wannabe leaders in Australia? Or organised sideblinding by vested interests? Given Australia’s climate politics all three carry a bet.

The wager we need though is a bolder one, one that confidently invests in the economic potential of Australia’s renewable-energy future.

♦ Jim Tait is the federal leader of the new political party Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN) that was started in Mullumbimby and is running for seats in the federal senate (upper house) in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland.

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