With a net zero emissions target, we have an opportunity to reinvent the way we inhabit this planet.
It’s easy to be negative about our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 – to assume that we’re not going to meet the target. But I take a different view. The truth is that this is one of the most novel goals that we could ever plan as a society – and it involves not just individuals, but governments, NGOs and corporations, all working towards the same outcome.
People haven’t realised how big this thing is, to stop all greenhouse gas emissions, and for any leftover emissions difficult to stop to have an equivalent amount being removed from the atmosphere. This is going to be the greatest transformation in this nation since the arrival of Europeans. We’re talking about the transformation of the entire economy in 30 years. If you were to compare, for instance, the transformation that the industrial revolution brought, that took place over at least 150 years.
We’re talking about the transformation of the entire economy in 30 years.
And the good thing is that with the kind of new society and new economy we’re trying to bring in with these net zero emissions, it will bring better land management, a more efficient use of energy, a safer society, a cleaner environment. It’s incredibly exciting that we have a society really backing these changes, mostly, but now we need to make sure we are making accountable the government’s promise to enable them.
Can we do it? Yes, we can. However, few people understand the level of the transformation – the volume of the changes and, most important of it all, the idea that all of these changes will bring good to us. We’re not pushing for a society and an economy where you won’t be able to fly, for example, or you won’t be able to own a big house, if that is what you really want, or you won’t be able to do a lot of stuff. It’s almost the opposite.
This is our chance to build a better world that everyone would want to live in. We’re also talking about better management of land, better management of our coastal zones, better management for biodiversity, for conservation, for leisure, all with additional benefits for the climate. We can have them all if we really try to focus and embrace these really transformational pathways. We’re going to produce a better nation and certainly a better future for our kids.
This is our chance to build a better world that everyone would want to live in.
Yes, it’s easy to be negative – the political process around the subject of climate change in this country has been exceptionally tiring. And one could say we’re completely burned out. But now we have this tremendous opportunity in front of us.
Even as a little kid I knew that I wanted to do something about the environment – I just didn’t quite know what it was. When I began my studies, I focused a lot on wildfires, and how to help landscapes to regenerate after fire in the Mediterranean – I’m originally from Barcelona, Spain, where I studied terrestrial ecology. Then I went to the US in 1991 to gain experience, and it was there that I was exposed to the then-incipient research of the impacts of climate change on ecosystem function and services they provide to society and the environment. This was even before the Convention on Climate Change was established.
Eight years later, I left the US to come to Australia to really focus on the global carbon cycle, and other global biogeochemical cycles – and how humans are altering those cycles and the planet’s climate.
The focus of my work has required me to bring people and resources together, across the world. In this way, we’ve been able to produce the highly interdisciplinary and integrative research that is required to produce global and Australian budgets of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These budgets are the building blocks to develop pathways to decarbonisation, and they account for all human and natural emissions and removals of greenhouse gases. We also use these budgets to assess how much more greenhouses gases can still be emitted before we need to have the global carbon-based economy stopped.
One thing that I learnt quite early in my career is the enormous power of bringing interdisciplinary teams together.
One thing that I learnt quite early in my career is the enormous power of bringing interdisciplinary teams together. I’ve had the opportunity to provide vision and leadership to such teams to work towards big science that no single individual or institution would be able to achieve.
For many decades, we had placed a lot of focus on individual excellence in science, as opposed to complex collaborations. Although individual excellence is central to scientific advancement, I believe we have underutilised a very powerful resource.
Rather than look at climate change as an inevitable catastrophe, and thinking we’re all doomed, I’d like people to look at the incredible opportunities to make changes that we could never have dreamed could happen so quickly.
Pep is a chief research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre and executive director of the Global Carbon Project (GCP), a global consortium of scientists under the umbrella of Future Earth and a scientific partner of the World Climate Research Program. The GCP studies the impact of human activities on the carbon cycle and other biogeochemical cycles, and its associated changes in the climate system. He focuses on collaborative and highly integrative research to develop Australian, regional and global budgets and trend analyses of the main greenhouse gases.