Review: Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050

World events are making it increasingly clear that leadership on climate action is a mission Labor must embrace.

It is easy however to get lost in the labyrinth of climate policy. It tends toward the complex and the technocratic. And this feeds despair and disengagement.

Shadow Climate Change Minister Mark Butler is fond of pointing out that climate policy is as simple a legislated cap on emissions, the rest is detail. While this is true, I was excited to find ClimateWorks and ANU recent report, Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050: How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world.


ClimateWorks operates out of Monash University and is chaired by former Victorian Labor Minister, John Thwaites. This report, released in September 2014, is part of global project that has modeled the path to decarbonisation for fifteen economies, between them responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions.

I cannot be more enthusiastic about this report. If you read one thing about climate policy, read this.  It will change your attitude to this policy area. It sets out clearly and simply the path to solving Australia’s climate challenge and delivering zero net emissions by 2050. It makes it look logically do-able.

Two thirds of Australia’s carbon pollution comes from the electricity sector. If we clean the sector up, we break the back of the problem. The recent debate about the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has illustrated the popular appeal of renewables. People like the idea of generating power from the sun and the wind. They know it is job creating and future facing.

Crosby Textor has conducted polling for renewable energy company, Pacific Hydro over the last two years. Research conducted in August 2014 found that 82% of people support the RET. What’s more, when people were asked in mid 2013 about their response to various people and concepts associated with climate action, renewable energy enjoyed a 78% positive reaction, while the carbon tax sat on the bottom of the list with 21% in favour. Labor needs no further information about how to frame our climate offering!

The report proposes radically reducing emissions primarily with energy policy built on three pillars. Firstly we increase renewables’ share of electricity generation to 50% by 2030 and 97% by 2050.

Second we push for radical increases in energy efficiency, decreasing the emissions intensity of GDP by a half by 2050. The big efficiency gains suggested are in building and transport.

And finally, we must “energy switch” to cleaner sources. Having cleaned up the electricity sector we shift as many end uses into that energy supply as possible. Cars and other transport being the obvious candidates.

The report identifies two key competitive advantages that Australia brings to a low carbon global economy: plentiful cheap electricity and capacity for storage of carbon in carbon forestry and farming.

In the same way that we have plentiful, cheap coal we also have plentiful free wind and sun. The World Bank has identified Australia as the best placed of the G20 nation to offset outstanding carbon pollution by planting trees.  This offers opportunities for regional renewal, biodiversity positives and off-setting of emissions.  Ideally it could even create an export industry.

The report does not deal with some key questions that concern Labor, such as where are the job growth opportunities in this new economy. That is a task for us elsewhere. What it does do is show that the monster can be tamed. There is nothing easy about it, but doing Australia’s part in limiting climate change is possible with resolute leadership from a party ready to take on the grand reform of a generation.

About Felicity Wade

Felicity Wade

Felicity Wade is the National Co-convenor of the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN).

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