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Australia’s climate crisis is an opportunity with global potential

Prof Garnaut said Australia alone “will not determine global outcomes” but serious action on climate change would “provide a substantial boost to the global effort”.

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The 2011 Garnaut Review still stands as the most comprehensive reckoning of the impacts of climate change and options for transition to an emissions-free economy. He developed his thoughts in the 2019 book Superpower, which outlines how Australia can use progressive reform to tap economic opportunities in lowering emissions despite Mr Morrison’s refusal to create a market mechanism by placing a price on carbon emissions.

“Australia has by far the richest endowment per person of renewable energy resources. This makes us naturally the country with lowest energy costs in the emerging zero emissions world,” Prof Garnaut wrote in Superpower.

He said Australia can lower emissions by 50 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 and increase the contribution of renewable energy to half or more of our electricity use, which in turn would pave the way for achieving zero net emissions before 2050.

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On top of reforms to accommodate the increased role of renewables in the electricity grid, Prof Garnaut said the farm sector should be incentivised to employ low greenhouse gas practices and technologies, and the resulting emissions reductions could be used to offset the resources sector.

These offsets could provide a “major boost for sequestration” of carbon in soils, pastures, woodlands, and forestry plantations.

Prof Garnaut said closure of ageing coal fired power plants could create “bumps along the way to low emissions”, but as the case of South Australia’s Northern Power station showed, price impacts would be short lived.

“I’m saying there might be a bit of a short term lift, but it will be short term and it’s a blip on a downward path,” he said.

Prof Garnaut said Australia’s international reputation on emissions reduction had taken a further hit as this summer’s catastrophic bushfires captured the world’s attention.

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“Our negative position at Madrid (climate talks) was the subject of much international discussion and is more than usually the centre of notice because we are the highest per capita emitter in the developed world.”

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