Net Zero Australia: First findings from a groundbreaking study
The University of Melbourne co-hosted the launch of interim results on how Australia might achieve net zero emissions
How might Australia achieve net zero emissions by 2050? What pathways are possible, and what would these look like on the ground?
These were some of the big questions tackled at the recent launch of interim results of the Net Zero Australia study, co-hosted by the Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) at the University of Melbourne.
At the launch, five scenarios for achieving net zero emissions – and their consequences – were presented and discussed with a public audience of more than 200 in-person and close to 1,000 online by members of the study’s Steering Committee, including MEI Director Professor Michael Brear, and chaired by former Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Robin Batterham.
“Our findings show there’s no two ways about it – to meet net zero by 2050, Australia must transform,” Professor Batterham said. “Major and long-term investment is required in new renewable generation, electricity transmission, hydrogen supply chains, and more. New skills and training are needed to capitalise on Australia’s clean energy potential. This will create new costs, benefits and opportunities.”
Key insights from the interim modelling suggest that intensive capital investment is needed for Australia to achieve a net zero transition, but that this investment will bring significant benefits.
Renewables can produce most or all domestic energy by 2050, and this clean energy will replace our fossil fuel exports, providing clean energy to our region. A decarbonised energy market will mean a large workforce with new skills must grow across the nation, particularly in northern Australia.
More productive use of energy can keep domestic demand about the same, despite population growth, and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) can play an important role, complementing renewables.
Emissions from farms, forestry and waste should fall, but are unlikely to reach net zero, and large changes in land and sea use will occur and will need careful planning and community engagement.
Downscaling maps released at the launch showed possibilities for “Tasmania-sized” solar and hydrogen hubs to be developed across Australia’s north.
The project’s Steering Committee have emphasised that the results are not forecasts, but illustrations of possible pathways for Australia. The engagement and support of landowners and communities – particularly First Nations peoples – will be critical.
“The aim of this study is not to prescribe solutions for Australia, but to provide an evidence base on which to make decisions on how we achieve a net zero emission future,” said MEI Director, Professor Michael Brear. “Careful and considered engagement with different communities will be essential, and the future is what we choose it to be.”
Started in 2021, Net Zero Australia is a research partnership between the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Princeton University and management consultancy Nous Group.
Final results are scheduled for release in early 2023.