CSIRO stresses ‘faster reduction’ in emissions than government target

Australia’s chief science agency has mapped out how the country can quickly get to net zero – but some proposals are controversial.

A new report from the CSIRO prioritises electricity and transport but relies heavily on negative emissions technology, and land use.

The report, titled ‘Pathways to Net Zero Emissions – An Australian Perspective on Rapid Decarbonisation’ uses data and analysis from the International Energy Agency, but in an Australian context.

While not everyone agrees that staying under 1.5°C degrees of warming is still possible, the team looked at two future scenarios – business as usual; and a pathway aligned with the IEA’s net zero emissions global 1.5°C carbon budget.

“To be in line with [1.5 degrees], Australia will need to reduce emissions by 52%, from 512 Mt CO2-eq in 2020 to less than 246 Mt CO2-eq in 2030,” the CSIRO researchers write in the report.

“This is a faster reduction than the current federal government target of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 (or a 32% reduction on 2020 emissions).”

The report largely focuses on existing technologies and suggests that this is mostly all we need to reduce emissions 52% from 2020 levels by 2030.

The decarbonisation of the electricity grid is well underway, but in the IEA scenario, solar and wind power will make up three quarters of Australia’s energy needs by 2030, with double the long term storage like hydro, and five times the short term storage like batteries. In this scenario, by 2040, the only fossil fuel use is in gas ‘peaking plants’, which are used only occasionally when all other avenues are exhausted.

Mining is able to piggyback off these changes to the energy system, with electrification and some hydrogen helping to decarbonise the industry. This is important as although coal and gas will likely slow over time, demand for iron ore, lithium and rare earth metals will increase.

Transport is another area the team focused on, highlighting that transport currently contributes just under a fifth of total emissions.

“The IEA transition projects Australia rapidly electrifying light vehicles, with sales of electric vehicles growing to 55% of all new vehicles by 2030 (and nearly a quarter of vehicles on road),” the report states.

“Furthermore, by 2035 all new sales of light vehicles are electric (and nearly three quarters of all light vehicles on road are electric by 2040).”

They also note that Australia currently “lags behind our global peers” when it comes to passenger electric vehicles. But while passenger vehicles are easy enough to switch from petrol to electric, long distance and heavy transport is harder.

“Decarbonisation of long distance and heavy transport is projected to be slower than light vehicles,” says the report.

The report forecasts that “heavy road transport rapidly decarbonises in the 2030s using a mix of electric and hydrogen fuel cells; electric heavy road vehicles make up more than 50% of all heavy road vehicles by 2050.”

Unfortunately to get to ‘net zero’ by 2050 the authors rely on a large amount of negative emissions technology, and land use changes to offset the remaining agriculture, transport and manufacturing industries. Both are controversial.

Negative emissions technology – or carbon capture – has been shown to be expensive, and unfortunately extremely difficult to make work.

Land use is another way for the government to ‘sink’ some carbon emissions through trees and forestry. Although ensuring land is cleared less and forests regrown is important, it isn’t as simple as ‘like for like’ with carbon.

“Pressure is mounting for business to speed up its efforts towards net zero and lead the way for the rest of the country,” said CSIRO’s Executive Director – Environment, Energy and Resources Dr. Peter Mayfield.

“This work will help business find a rapid and achievable pathway to net zero appropriate to their sector – guiding investment to mitigate climate change, reinventing industries of old, and creating new jobs in emerging industries.”

Please login to favourite this article.