In the short term, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the climate action momentum that was growing in Australia following the disastrous 2019/20 bushfire season.
In the medium to long term, the pandemic and our response to it may yet prove a watershed for climate action.
The pandemic has, of course, delivered an enormous hit to the national economy and people’s lives. With the economy reeling from weeks, potentially months, of restrictions, a focus on creating jobs and rebuilding society will be critical as Australia begins planning for post-pandemic recovery.
This presents an opportunity to combine job creation and economic stimulus efforts with action on climate change. Many climate solutions such as renewable energy, green buildings and sustainable transport are off-the-shelf, mature technologies ready to be deployed at scale.
ClimateWorks Australia’s Decarbonisation Futures report, outlines the effect of new technologies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report shows that, despite emissions rising in recent years, Australia can still play its part in keeping global temperature rise to two degrees or below.
Global uptake of sustainable technologies now means renewable power from solar and wind farms offers a cheaper source of electricity than new fossil-fuelled generation. The cost of storing electricity has fallen dramatically, with modern batteries retailing for 20 per cent of their cost only a decade ago.
Those two developments allow renewable energy and electrification to play a major role in reducing emissions throughout the entire economy, particularly in sectors such as transport, buildings and industry.
Sustainable residential and commercial buildings can now be built (and existing ones retrofitted) to pair energy efficiency with renewable energy rather than relying on fossil fuels like gas.
All of these measures mean buildings can emit no emissions or even become “carbon positive” by producing more renewable energy than they use.
Efficient split system airconditioning and heating, solar hot water or heat pumps, superior insulation, rooftop solar and battery systems: all of these measures mean buildings can emit no emissions or even become “carbon positive” by producing more renewable energy than they use.
Many climate solutions offer a range of broader benefits for economic stimulus and job creation. For example, investing in public transport infrastructure and services can create jobs in construction and operation, as well as providing an affordable, clean transport option and access to work for those without a car, or unable to drive.
Decarbonisation Futures shows climate solutions are available but need to be deployed rapidly and at scale. Time is of the essence. If temperature rises are to be kept to less than 2 degrees, Australia must halve its emissions by 2030.
To achieve an outcome of under 1.5 degrees, emissions must be cut by 74 per cent by the same date.
Decarbonisation Futures shows these are ambitious targets, but they are achievable – if we embark on real action as soon as we can.
That’s why the stimulus packages being planned by federal and state governments to rouse industry from its virus-induced slumber could be so significant. This is an opportunity to direct funds towards a better future — to accelerate the deployment of mature climate solutions, and invest in the rapid development and commercialisation of emerging ones.
Like the coronavirus, climate change poses a global threat, and requires a coordinated, strong response from government, business and society at large.
The response to this coronavirus has spurred all levels of government to work together and cooperate, with labour, business and ordinary citizens in a concerted response to an emergency. Businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes making rapid and sweeping changes to their practices in order to survive.
Like the coronavirus, climate change poses a global threat, and requires a coordinated, strong response from government, business and society at large. What the response to covid19 shows us is that people are able, ready and willing to do just that. Yet unlike covid19, the changes we make for climate change can be positive for the economy.
In other words, the tragedy of the pandemic has created an extraordinary opportunity: a chance to generate jobs in sustainable industries while setting up the nation for a smoother and speedier transition to a zero-emissions economy.
Petra Stock is program manager, ClimateWorks Australia