In 2023, there is international accord that urgent action is required to reduce emissions in line with Paris Agreement goals and limit warming to below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C.

The global average temperature has risen by around 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, with each decade recording successively warmer temperatures than the last.

As the rise in global temperature is directly related to cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, time is fast running out to prevent warming beyond 1.5°C and the worst effects of climate change.

For Australia, rapid and deep emissions reductions are needed if this nation is to contribute to global emissions reductions in line with Paris Agreement goals.

The Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative (Australian Industry ETI) spent three years undertaking an extensive program to collectively explore and address the challenges associated with decarbonising the emissions intensive industry sector.

The Australian Industry ETI focused on five supply chains (iron and steel, aluminium, other metals, chemicals, and liquefied natural gas (LNG)) that are significant in terms of their emissions, energy use, and contributions to the Australian and global economies.

Collectively, heavy industry is responsible for 17.3 per cent of Australia’s GDP.

These five supply chains generate exports worth approximately A$236 billion each year and directly employ an estimated 414,000 people.

Australia’s industry sectors account for around 44 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, with the five supply chains that are the focus for the Australian Industry ETI contributing an estimated 25 per cent.

Combining multi-year engagements with some of Australia’s largest companies and evidence-based, independent analysis, the Australian Industry ETI has identified potential pathways to net zero emissions across heavy industry supply chains, as well as tangible projects for action towards the net zero emissions goal.

As economies worldwide increasingly align to net zero, this report presents the pathways for Australia’s heavy industry decarbonisation and priority actions needed across key supply chains to support the transition.

This report analyses three techno-economic scenarios developed to explore and compare key drivers of industrial decarbonisation in Australia. A scenario approach was applied due to the inherent uncertainty in the transition.

The first scenario – called the ‘Incremental scenario’ – was modelled to represent limited domestic action leading to slow decarbonisation throughout Australia, a scenario that ultimately fails to limit warming to below 2ºC and does not meet government targets.

The second scenario – called the ‘Industry-led scenario’ – was modelled to represent strong climate action and leadership from industry, with limited action across the broader economy.

The third scenario – called the ‘Coordinated action scenario’ – was modelled to inform the level of ambition and action needed to limit warming below 1.5°C and realise opportunities within a decarbonising global economy.

Achieving a transition in line with 1.5°C requires strong ambition, coordinated action and government support

This report focuses on the ‘Coordinated action scenario’, which shows industry emissions could be reduced by 92 per cent by 2050, decreasing from 221MtCO₂e/year in 2020 to 17MtCO₂e/year in 2050.

This scenario shows the outcomes of a major transformation across all sectors of the economy, with Australia reducing its fair share of emissions in line with a 1.5°C future.

The pathway to 1.5°C will be challenging, but we cannot afford to fail

While the coordinated action scenario shows what is needed for a 1.5ºC pathway, key measures required to achieve this target are not yet in place.

The scale of emissions reductions needed in this scenario will require a transformational shift in Australia’s energy system.

This will be extremely challenging, requiring considerable effort and coordinated action across all sectors of Australia’s economy to overcome the barriers to develop and demonstrate the full range of technologies needed, deploy solutions for the transition of existing operations, integrate the systems and infrastructure for the effective decarbonisation of industry, and establish a large-scale, cost-competitive, decarbonised energy system of the future.

However, the costs of failure are unacceptable.

Modelling from the Australian Industry ETI shows that over 350TWh of electricity generation could be needed per year by 2030, and nearly 600TWh per year by 2050.

To achieve this, Australia must more than double its total current electricity generation by 2050, achieved through multi-gigawatt renewable generation and storage developments.

In the same scenario, by 2030, around 60GW of wind generation, 20GW of large-scale solar PV and 45GW of rooftop solar could be required.

And by 2050, around 80GW of wind generation, 90GW of large-scale solar PV and 80GW of rooftop solar could be needed, as well as 70GW of storage.

Strong, effective and coordinated action now is critical to achieve the pathway set out in this report, to develop the capabilities needed for the transitions, and to avoid the risks of stranded assets, relatively higher long-term energy costs and being left behind.

Many key export markets, including Japan, China and South Korea, have each set net zero emissions targets and momentum towards net zero emissions is building internationally.

As other countries act, mechanisms such as the European Union’s (EU)’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) impose a carbon penalty on imports.

While significant investment is needed, the scale required is comparable to investments made through other major efforts

The investment required in industry abatement technologies and transitioning the energy system4 could be as high as A$625 billion by 2050.

Over a 30-year period, the annual investment equates to roughly A$20.8 billion per year if Australia is to remain on track to limiting warming to 1.5ºC.

While this represents a substantial financial commitment, it is a tenth of the export value of the five supply chains in focus for the Australian Industry ETI – approximately A$236 billion each year – and is comparable to investments made through other major efforts.

For example, in Australia, A$305 billion has been invested in new LNG projects over the past 13 years and the economic response to COVID-19 has reached A$291 billion since the start of the pandemic.

In fact, investment in technologies and infrastructure to achieve decarbonisation will need to be accelerated similarly to the scale of investment and action seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transition offers significant opportunities both for the industry sector and Australia’s economy as a whole

There are significant potential benefits for Australia, if strong, effective, and coordinated action is achieved.

The Australian Industry ETI modelling shows there is potential for lower electricity system costs in the long term, facilitated by the integration of customer-owned storage and load balancing from a large-scale hydrogen industry.

There is also the potential for growing industrial production and new export-oriented industries if Australia can leverage its renewable energy advantages in a decarbonising global economy.

As examined by a sensitivity study called ‘Coordinated action with exports sensitivity’, if Australia develops hydrogen and green iron export industries, around 1450TWh of electricity generation will be needed each year by 2050.

This represents an almost six-fold increase in Australia’s total electricity generation, requiring the build-out of just over 230GW of wind, 240GW of large scale solar PV and industry and energy system investments of up to A$1.4 trillion by 2050 to meet this demand.

Australia could develop thriving green industries if the necessary action is taken now to decarbonise supply chains

Alongside the environmental benefits of early action, Australia could become a leader in the transition to lower-emissions supply chains, leveraging abundant renewable energy and mineral resources, home-grown intellectual property and a skilled, experienced workforce to drive a competitive advantage for low-emissions production.

Economies of scale and efficient supporting service industries could enable Australia to form a sustained, long-term competitive advantage.

Australia could also position itself strategically to develop new markets and meet the needs of the future in terms of ores, refined metals, chemicals, manufactured products and energy.

Because of these potential advantages, the Business Council of Australia advocates for Australia to be an early mover in achieving a net zero economy.

Focusing on how Australia might achieve these advantages, while addressing how costs and risks can be appropriately distributed, requires a national strategy on developing competitiveness in a globally decarbonising economy.

This should include an understanding of the challenges of action and acknowledge Australia’s relative strengths, weaknesses and ability to drive the capabilities and culture needed to compete in a net zero world.

With net zero consensus now in place, there are five priority objectives for action With targets now set at state, territory and national levels, there is willingness to drive towards net zero from government, industry and investors alike.

Australia now has a moment of opportunity to take strong, effective and coordinated action.

The Australian Industry ETI has identified the following objectives to ensure Australian industry can transition to net zero emissions.

These objectives present priorities, rather than sequential steps and in many cases will need to be developed concurrently to achieve the required rate of transition.

Each objective is applied to each of the five key industrial supply chains and detailed in the full report.

Recommended actions to unlock 1.5°C-aligned pathways

With targets now set at state, territory and national levels and a willingness to drive towards net zero in place from government, industry and investors alike, there is now a moment of opportunity to take strong, effective and coordinated action towards net zero emissions.

Chapter 8, ‘Enabling the transition to net zero emissions in Australian industry’ outlines key recommended actions and enablers, aligned to the 1.5°C trajectory.

The objectives of the recommended actions and enablers are to:

  • Set a strong, clear, enduring framework with a net zero goal to align industry, finance and government efforts on the transition of Australia’s industry
  • Transition to the large-scale, cost-competitive, renewable energy system of the future
  • Accelerate development and demonstration of the emerging technologies needed for Australia to be a net zero emissions superpower
  • Drive deployment of low carbon solutions across the economy, reduce barriers and support investment towards the transition to compete in a decarbonising global economy
  • Develop integrated net zero regions, supply chains and energy network solutions.

While the challenges will be significant, a potential pathway for Australian industry aligned to limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C does exist

This is a moment of opportunity for Australia to align and focus efforts to create a globally competitive, equitable, net zero industrial economy.

The transition will only be achieved if strong, effective and coordinated action is taken across the economy.

Despite the significant short-term hurdles, industry has a critical role to play in decarbonising the energy system to support decarbonisation and economic prosperity.

Importantly, momentum is building across Australia’s economy to decarbonise heavy industry supply chains and commitment from industry is also building towards the long–term transition.

Download the full report