Ahead of COP26, CEDA gathered an expert panel to discuss the way forward for Australia, to hasten our energy transition in a rapidly decarbonising world.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), is a highly regarded Australian think tank that convenes informed leaders from business, academia, government and community to research and discuss key issues and support good public policy around Australia’s economic and social development. 

Pathways to net zero, the focus of ClimateWorks Australia’s research since 2014, was the focus for CEDA’s livestreamed event on October 12, 2021 with The Hon. Angus Taylor MP, Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, The Hon. Dr Steven Miles MP, Deputy Premier of Queensland, and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Paul Gleeson, Group Director Sustainability and Managing Director Energy, Resources and Water, Aurecon and Anna Skarbek, Chief Executive Officer, ClimateWorks Australia.  

Ministers Taylor and Miles covered net zero plans within their jurisdictions, and Paul Gleeson of Aurecon and ClimateWorks CEO Anna Skarbek spoke directly to the imperative to get to net zero, and the need to do so at pace. The recording of the one hour event can be viewed here. Below is a summary of our CEO’s contributions.

Anna referred to COP26 in Glasgow and the import of this event. ‘It’s a big one because it’s five years since the Paris Agreement was ratified, extended by one year due to COVID… and the key is really (in) the pace of change we’ve seen in the last five years and what we can expect in the next five.’ She explained that 2015, when the Paris Agreement was ratified, was the year after ClimateWorks with CSIRO and ANU, did the first net zero emissions scenarios for Australia. ‘Back then in 2015, we found that Australia could have an emissions reduction target in 2030 of 50 per cent by 2030. Five years on, we now see, as you’ve just heard, that is the call of the mainstream big business group, the BCA.’

This coincides with a lift in expectations globally, from the initial 2 degree goal. ‘The 1.5 degree pathway has become the new benchmark, not just the two degree one, and that makes it all move faster. We’ve seen the major international institutional investor groups now set that as their benchmark. The Science Based Trajectories initiative is rebasing everything to 1.5. So we updated our work with CSIRO and see that the target for 2030 for Australia becomes about a 75 per cent emissions reduction target in the next 10 years to be aligned with 1.5 degrees.’

This aligns with expectations from global investors, Anna noted, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is now incorporating 1.5 degree scenarios into their next Integrated Strategy Plan. It includes a hydrogen superpower scenario and a strong electrification alternative. ‘And we know AEMO is planning for 100 per cent instantaneous renewables within five years.’ She added. 

Other shifts Anna referred to in her presentation included shifted focus on scope three emissions – the emissions resulting further down a supply chain and not owned or controlled by a reporting organisation’s direct activities. There has also been added scrutiny around offsets, with a much smaller set of residual emissions you cannot otherwise eliminate. ‘Our research over the last five years compared to our most recent scenarios, has seen that technology’s ability to eliminate those residual emissions has moved enormously, and we now see that there is less than half – so two to four times less residual emissions – when we look at what technology can remove.’ It’s another step forward in edging towards the net zero goal. 

What does all this mean for Australia, in the next five years?

Anna noted there are many fantastic opportunities just waiting to be realised. ‘There is more to do, but it’s within our grasp. Opportunities around sectoral roadmaps combine nicely with a place-based approach because Australia is a very large continent with some quite concentrated areas of heavy industry, which is highly exposed to being emissions intensive, but also hugely advantageously ready to grab the opportunities (that both Ministers spoke about). And so there are now a series of fragmented policies. The steps needed from a policy perspective include coordinating fragmented local, state and federal funding. And we’ve got fantastic federal agencies in ARENA and the CEFC, but it actually takes effort for everything to align.’ 

Anna stressed the need for funding to back action. ‘…We know that about $10 billion in start-up capital infrastructure funding for these zones could leverage four times that in debt and private investment and do the future proofing around those industries. Every sector needs that sort of roadmap; the transport sector, as well as agriculture and the built environment. We’re seeing many sectors now step forward… and the time is right for state and federal governments to combine their efforts. The future is ours to grasp, provided we can move at the pace that the increasing global expectations will demand of us (and that is needed for a safe climate).’

To view the full CEDA presentation, click here