With the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, Emeritus Professor Kevin Parton (pictured inset) in the Charles Sturt School of Business and member of the Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS) reminds us of old questions and their neglected answers.
At the outset it is important to note that the Sixth Assessment Report (the IPCC Report - Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis AR6-WG1), addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. It brings together the latest advances in climate science and combines multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.
Given the urgency of the report’s findings and recommendations, let me outline some answers to the following key questions:
- What is the best way for Australia to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050? What are the key areas of change required to make this deadline?
- How important is it to include agriculture? (Can we achieve net-zero emissions without agriculture?)
- Are there opportunities for Australia in aiming for net-zero emissions? How might we benefit as a nation and as individuals by achieving (or at least working towards) this target?
These are extremely old questions. The answers to them have been around for more than a decade; let me repeat them:
First, the most efficient manner to achieve zero emissions is through an emissions trading scheme (ETS). This should be the basis of our climate change policy.
Other countries could eventually force an ETS on Australia. Watch the development of the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) for an example of this.
Second, no country is currently arguing that agriculture should be included in reducing greenhouse gases in the short run, but it will become an agenda item as time proceeds.
Note that there may be good opportunities for Australian agriculture to gain from carbon sequestration and selling offsets as the carbon price increases, as it currently is.
Third, the longer Australia delays moving to a proper climate change policy, the fewer economic opportunities there will be from being an early adopter of the technologies of the renewable revolution.
The following will be technological changes that will take place over the next decade; the sooner they happen in Australia the better:
- There should be no new coal-fired power plants. The Australian power grid needs to find other non-polluting means to generate firm energy. This will allow existing coal-fired power plants to be replaced by renewables.
- Australia has been particularly poor at energy efficiency of buildings. New building standards need to be established, and old buildings must be retrofitted.
- Surveys have shown that plenty of people are interested in public transport and riding bikes as long as the right infrastructure is constructed (e.g. bike tracks separated from cars for safety reasons).
- Electric vehicles should be encouraged, and first diesel and then petrol vehicles will be phased out.
Already these changes have been foreshadowed in other countries.
More imaginative policy is clearly needed in this area if Australia is not to be left behind.