It’s possible for Australia to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C but only if every sector – including the built environment – commits to an “all in” approach, according to a new report from ClimateWorks Australia.
The not-for-profit climate research and advisory organisation released a new report on the weekend outlining solutions to achieve net zero emissions across all sectors and meet Australia’s climate goals by 2050.
Speaking at an Australia at Home webinar on Monday, ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek said that to meet Paris commitments we’ll need to deploy mature decarbonisation tech in industries such as the built environment in the coming decade, while simultaneously “pulling through” technology R&D in more entrenched industries for deployment in the decades after.
Having done the same report in 2014, Ms Skarbek is confident in the assertion that decarbonisation is possible given the speed of development in challenging areas, such as aircraft. While they can still only travel short distances, she says electric airplanes “weren’t even on the table” five years ago.
And in the built environment, carbon intensive materials such as steel are increasingly being replaced with cross laminated timber, which sequesters carbon.
She says that mature decarbonisation technologies also “turn out to be stimulus friendly”, in reference to economic recovery on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They are something that can be installed straight away, and is already there. They will help us achieve two goals at once.”
Electricity, built environment, transport heading in right direction
The transition to net zero can already begin in the electricity sector by shifting Australian power generation to renewable energy with proven large and small scale generation. While a full transition to renewable electricity will require additional cost for storage, battery prices have dropped nearly 80 per cent since 2010.
The building sector is also well on its way to reaching its emissions targets through energy efficient design. With better insulation and cheaper appliances such as LED bulbs, net zero passive homes can both cut down on emissions and lessen utility costs for consumers.
Although one of the largest emissions contributors in Australia, transportation is fortunate to have rapidly developing technology, from more accessible electric vehicles to alternative biofuels. For more immediate changes, manufacturers can use existing technology and route optimisation to improve efficiency for both road vehicles and non-road transportation, such as airplanes.
Room for improvement in the industrial sector
The most room for growth rests in the industrial sector, where zero emissions technology remains scarce. In order to significantly reduce, if not eliminate carbon emissions, non-energy factors can be lessened by switching to less emissions intense materials and promoting circular economy principles.
Improvements in transportation and industrial processes rest on the success of the energy sector with the transition to zero emissions heavily dependent on decarbonisation in electricity generation.
The only sector not reliant on energy transitions is agriculture, where the majority of emissions come from non-energy sources such as livestock. To reduce emissions, farmers can further improve crop yields and maximise resource efficiency using satellite monitoring technology while researchers investigate alternatives to livestock practices such as plant-based foods or lab produced meat.
Three different pathways
ClimateWorks presented three potential pathways: a 2°C limit through technology deployment, a 2°C limit prioritising further innovation, and a 1.5°C limit equally distributed between sectors. All three scenarios fall within the 2°C threshold to prevent catastrophic environmental events with 1.5°C as the primary goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Each pathway showed levels of technology deployment and emissions reductions significantly higher than government projections. The government estimated a 16 per cent decrease in emissions by 2030, however, the report estimated a 48-53 per cent reduction under the 2°C limit pathways and as much as 74 per cent reduction under the 1.5°C scenario.
While technological innovation and utilisation are key, the government, businesses and individuals must embrace and drive net zero progress through policy and investment. It is possible for Australia to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, but only if every sector commits to an “all in” approach.
In this crucial decade, the report proposes an increased role for the government to pass legislation limiting emissions and create incentives to advance development of new technology.
Following these guidelines, according to the report, would also help Australia keep pace with the international community and prevent missed investment opportunities in emerging technology.
- With Poppy Johnston