Existing technology and new policies are the keys to a net-zero emissions future, according to the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).
In a statement released today, the academy of independent technology experts voices its support for more ambitious emissions reduction targets in Australia, immediate deployment of low or no-emissions technology, and a national net-zero emissions policy.
“The technologies we can use to make significant progress are here today,” says Professor Hugh Bradlow, president of ATSE.
“It’s not a case of waiting for some miracle to happen, it’s a case of getting on with it now.”
The statement includes three positions taken by ATSE:
- That the federal government should commit to a net-zero emissions by 2050 target, and set a more ambitious target for 2030 than the current 26%-28% reduction,
- That existing mature, low-carbon technologies (for example solar and wind power, electric vehicles and battery storage) should be deployed immediately in order to cut emissions before 2030, and
- That Australia should have a national net-zero policy and implementation framework.
Bradlow says the academy believes the current federal emissions target – a 26%-28% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels – could be significantly higher.
“There are numbers like 50% being touted as a possible 2030 target,” he says. “Other countries like Britain have much more ambitious targets.”
The three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia are electricity (34% of total emissions); other stationary energy, mostly from heating in homes and industrial processes (20%); and transport (17%).
See more: Cosmos Briefing: Electric Vehicles
Professor Renate Egan, a member of ATSE and researcher and entrepreneur in solar power, says that already-existing renewable technology could dramatically reduce emissions in all three of these areas.
“We are already on track to reach 80% renewables by 2030 in [the electricity] sector. Solar and wind are widely used across the world, and in fact Australia is leading in the deployment of solar and wind,” she says.
“If we can increase our deployment, it’ll be possible to have close to 100%.”
Battery power and grid stability will need to be improved to help this along, but Egan says this work is well underway.
“The market operator [AEMO] has already got plans in place for the East Coast rig to be able to handle 100% renewables by 2025.”
Stationary energy and transport will require more work to pivot to renewables. According to Egan, it’s achievable for both of these sectors as well, largely by replacing retired equipment with electrified versions. In stationary heating, “we can simply move from burning gas to electrification”, and transport emissions can be reduced similarly with electric vehicles.
Because both heating equipment and vehicles have lifespans of decades, Egan says it’s important to introduce electric equipment immediately as older machines get retired.
“[Much] of it will retire in the next 10 years, so every decision we make in the next 10 years ought to be considering a move away from oil and fuel and gas to electrification.”
She says that while the technology already exists to transition quickly, priorities for research in this area should focus on battery development, hydrogen generation and transport, and green minerals processing.
See more: Cosmos Briefing: Hydrogen
Dr John Söderbaum, a member of ATSE and the science & technology director at ACIL Allen, says that a lack of federal policy is slowing the transition to renewables down and creating confusion in the energy market.
“What is missing is a national policy commitment to net zero emissions,” he says.
“Having a policy and a framework would provide a clear path for planning Australia’s future. It will provide a lot more certainty for industry and help to enable a technology led transition towards net zero emissions.”
Söderbaum points out that this would bring the federal government in line with state and territory governments, several industry groups, and the opinions of voters according to nationwide polls.
“The state governments are leading in this space in that they have set zero emissions targets,” agrees Egan.
“They’re attracting investment as a result of that. They know what they want, have defined what it’s going to look like, and they’re attracting investment as a result. So if we can have that more broadly, that would be great.”
Söderbaum says that policy with proper community consultation will also reduce uncertainty for workforces in industries that will be disrupted.
In the statement, ATSE says it will continue to work with government, industry and research to get to net zero.
“We’re currently having a political discussion about whether or not we should continue to subsidise coal and gas fired generation,” says Egan.
“When we’re talking ‘technology not taxes’, it’s the antithesis of that. We should be investing in new technologies that give us reliability, not taxing to subsidise and support an ageing and retiring technology.”
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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