Australia must embrace new technologies to effectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Technological change is a constant in our lives. Sometimes we may feel that technology is developing slower than anticipated – for example electric vehicles have been available for more than 100 years – while some other technologies surprise us with their speed of commercialisation.
Consider the adoption rates of smart phones and the phenomenal cost curve for solar photo-voltaic panels. When we consider Australia in 2030, we can be confident many new technologies will dominate in new and unfamiliar ways. These changes will occur independently of most government policies and legislation, simply because the products are needed, well designed or have strong consumer appeal.
Climate change policy in Australia over the next decade will also have an impact on our willingness to adopt new technologies and practices up to 2030. The Paris Agreement, negotiated in 2015 and enforced in 2016, binds together all countries in achieving the objective of limiting the global average temperature rise this century well below 2C. It further drives efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The detailed rules of the Paris Agreement are still being negotiated through the UN processes; however, nearly 200 countries have developed published strategies to take effect from 2020. The collective ambition of these Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) must increase as current indications suggest combined global action will lead to a temperature rise of about 3C.
To address this shortfall in ambition, the Paris Agreement requires five-yearly stocktakes from 2023 to identify further actions to change the emissions trajectory in line with 2/1.5C global scenarios. All countries must identify additional abatement opportunities.
Australia is a significant global emitter of greenhouse gases – we are ranked about 13th out of 200 countries. Australia’s current NDC is for a 26-28 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions against a 2005 baseline by 2030. As Australia has ratified the Paris Agreement, then we accept that by 2023 we must identify a more stringent target.
The Climate Change Authority of Australia has recommended a target in the range of 45 to 65 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. The Government is projecting about 77 per cent of total emissions in 2030 to be from the energy sectors.
No matter the target, the challenge requires significant action across all sectors of the economy. The Australian Government’s own projections indicate our current policies and measures will result in no reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 versus 2005 levels.
On a positive note, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP and per capita are falling. This is a reflection of the strong trend towards the services sector.
In 2016, services represented 61 per cent of GDP, employed 9.4 million people and represented nearly 80 per cent of all industry. The services sector includes finance and insurance; healthcare and social assistance; education; travel; hospitality; IT and cyber security; and design and planning for the built environment.
Although many of these activities are not energy or emissions-intensive, the decisions made in these sectors will be important for the vision of Australia in 2030 and our emissions profile.
Electrification across the built environment, for instance, will be an important trend as consumers preferentially incorporate renewable energy into their energy mix, such as residential and commercial rooftop solar and battery storage. And there are opportunities for widespread electrification when the grid intensity is materially reduced. As the grid intensity falls, there will be incentives from a greenhouse perspective to consider switching from gas to electricity for space heating and cooling.
In the energy supply sector, there is currently no cohesive national policy to underpin investment decisions for generation, storage and network infrastructure. However, falling technology costs are driving investments in many renewable projects.
Globally, renewable expansion is doubling every 5.5 years – and this is consistent with the complete decarbonisation of the energy sector by mid-century.
It is therefore possible to envisage even stronger uptake of renewable technologies if national and state policies could be harmonised to provide strong signals to investors and consumer. The trilemma of reliability/affordability/greenhouse gas intensity is not easy to solve to meet the needs of all Australians.
It is clear new technologies will play a critical role in supporting and transitioning the current energy system. If we can resolve the trilemma, electrification can provide more opportunities for electric vehicles into the passenger and light commercial markets.
We will need smart integration technologies in our homes and businesses for grid power, solar PV, batteries, electric vehicles and energy management systems.
Our energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries will be under increasing pressure to maintain international competitiveness as the world seeks to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. These industries can have a strong future in Australia if we can resolve the energy trilemma and adopt innovative technologies.
Given the pace of change globally, we cannot maintain the status quo. Change will happen.
To deliver a prosperous future for Australia in 2030 and beyond, we must embrace the technologies that drive productivity and make lives better. We need effective policies and regulations across all levels of government that build on these technological changes and promote decarbonisation opportunities to ensure Australia meets ambitious abatement goals for 2030.
By seeking to be a world leader in decarbonisation, we can promote economic growth, new jobs and healthy communities. Technology is a critical component of our 2030 future.
Promoting Australia's advancement through technology