Move to ‘net carbon zero’ by 2050 doable, affordable and necessary for Australia and 14 other countries: UN

Fifteen of the world’s biggest economies – including Australia – could move to “net carbon zero” by 2050, according to a major new analysis released on Tuesday.

The report – Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation, produced by Australia’s ClimateWorks, along with ANU – is one of 15 prepared for the UN Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project, using modelling teams from 15 major emitters,  responsible for 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The countries include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the USA. The interim results, which are being presented to the UN Climate Summit in New York this week by leading economist Jeffrey Sachs, show that all 15 countries found ways to achieve near zero carbon electricity by 2050, while sustaining economic growth.

The report shows that the 15 countries’ economies could move to “net carbon zero” by 2050, without imposing any extra costs over business as usual.

In fact, the analysis finds that electricity bills would be lower than what they are now. Economic growth will remain more or less the same, while the benefits, in terms of health and the environment, will be enormous.

In Australia, only one party, the Greens, talks in terms of net carbon zero by 2050, and of higher renewable energy targets. Yet this report says not only is it necessary to meet climate goals, it is eminently doable.

Anna Skarbek, the executive director of ClimateWorks, says that Australia’s political rhetoric needs to change quickly.

While the Abbott government is talking of the need to “cut” the Renewable Energy Target down to a “real” 20 per cent, for “fear” that it might reach 25 or 26 per cent by 2020, Skarbek says that to achieve climate goals, Australia’s renewable energy target needs to be at least 50 per cent by 2030 – and then carbon free by 2050.

“There are many pathways for Australia to substantially reduce emissions, but all include greatly improved energy efficiency across the economy, a nearly carbon free power system and switching to low carbon energy sources in transport, buildings and industry,” Skarbek says.

“Taking the carbon out of our electricity system provides the largest reduction in emissions. Then we can use the carbon-free electricity to replace petrol in cars, and gas in buildings and some industrial processes.”

“The move to a low emissions electricity system can be developed with technologies that exist today. But we need to move faster – this report shows we’ll need at least 50 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 to achieve a decarbonised electricity system in the time we have left to stay within the carbon budget.”

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Giles Parkinson