A new project to develop a pathway for Australia to move to a low carbon economy by 2050 while building a prosperous nation was launched today.

Climateworks and the Australian National University have been appointed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network to lead the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project in Australia.  

The project will identify what can be done to decarbonise the energy system and reduce emissions and meet Australia’s international obligations to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, is in Australia to launch the project at the State Library of Victoria.

Climateworks Executive Director, Anna Skarbek said work had already begun on the project and identified three pillars on which Australia could build a pathway towards a low carbon economy by 2050.  These are:

  • Substantial increases in energy efficiency
  • A shift to low carbon energy sources
  • Abatement and sequestration of non-energy emissions from industry and land (including carbon forestry)

“Within this broad framework there are multiple possible pathways to a low carbon economy, many of which build on existing technologies,” Ms Skarbek said.

“The pace of development of new technologies is also accelerating but there is still a lag time between when they can be adapted which is why we need to start this process now.”

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 (CCS) 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.

ANU Centre for Climate Economics and Policy Director Frank Jotzo said Australia could achieve a low carbon economy with vigorous economic growth by 2050.

“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.  

There are 13 countries involved in the project including the United States, Europe, China, Canada, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Australia.  Collectively these countries 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 options for Australia.