The Panel launching the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways project (left to right): Anna Skarbek; Amandine Denis; Professor Jeffrey Sachs; Frank Jotzo.

22 May 2014 — The United Nations is lending a hand to the Australian sustainability effort, with ClimateWorks and the Australian National University having been appointed to lead the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways project for the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The project aims to identify what can be done to decarbonise our energy system, reduce emissions and meet our obligation to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius by 2050.

Representatives from government, industry, business, research institutions, NGOs and the general public were among the 200 people who attended the launch of the project at Melbourne’s State Library on 21 May.

Leading US economist and director of the UNSDSN Professor Jeffrey Sachs was keynote speaker at the event. He said Australia has a critical role in leading the world towards a global economy, which can be both low carbon and prosperous.

ClimateWorks executive director Anna Skarbek said work had already begun on the project, with three key pillars identified on which the low carbon future can be built by 2050. These pillars are substantial increases in energy efficiency; a shift to low carbon energy sources; and abatement and sequestration of non-energy emissions from industry and land (including carbon forestry).

Ms Skarbek said industry specific pathways could be developed for the most affected sectors in the economy including metals production, mining, gas production and distribution, carbon capture and storage, infrastructure, transport, buildings, forestry and bioenergy.

“We want to work with government and industry to identify key opportunities and challenges for reducing carbon in those sectors and what decisions matter most to keep the doors open for achieving these pathways,” she said.

A project brief document has been prepared, How Australia Can Thrive in a Low Carbon World: Pathways to Prosperity 2050.

ANU Centre for Climate Economics and Policy director Frank Jotzo said he was optimistic about Australia’s ability to achieve both a low carbon economy and vigorous growth.

“Australia’s economy is emissions intensive but it is also flexible, adaptable and resilient and we have a long history of benefiting from new trends in the global economy,” he said.

“Indeed, Australia is better placed than many other countries to shift to a low carbon economy because of our abundance of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass and potential for carbon forestry.”

The UN 2050 Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project was established in late 2013 to assist countries to decarbonise their economies in the most cost effective way. Those involved in the project are the United States, Europe, China, Canada, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Australia, which collectively account for 75 per cent of the world’s emissions.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will release an interim report in the middle of the year on what can be done to decarbonise the global economy, in the lead-up to a UN leaders’ meeting on climate change in September. The report will include a chapter on Australia, based on the work currently underway. A comprehensive Australian report will be released in September to stimulate discussion about the nation’s options.