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Carbon Neutral by 2050 … or earlier

By Dr John Töns

The Labor Party has announced its commitment to Australia becoming Carbon Neutral by 2050. The proposal has been dismissed out of hand by the Morrison Government with the familiar cry ‘where is the money coming from?’ Had they not be so blinded by ideology they may have rejected the commitment as too modest – we can fast track the transition to a zero, perhaps even negative carbon economy well before 2050. To understand how we need to start with our summer of catastrophies.

The first of the Australian bushfires started in June. For fires to start in June and continue through well into February is unprecedented. Moreover, although heavy rains extinguished many of the fires those same rains now brought with them floods and landslides. Rural communities that had spent much of the summer coping with the fire emergency were now faced with having to deal with yet another emergency triggered by extreme weather events.

Although all of these emergencies played out in regional Australia, they also impacted on the lives of city dwellers. For weeks on end thick smoke blanketed many of the major cities. Health authorities advised that people with respiratory conditions should avoid going outside. Few Australians were left untouched by the fires. It was a crisis that impacted on all Australians. Research by ANU has shown that 70% of Australians were impacted in someway by this summer of disasters.

That same research has shown that faced with the tangible impact of climate change there has been a substantial shift in thinking. As late as November Michael McCormack dismissed those who sought to link the fires with climate change as “inner-city raving lunatics”[1] by talking about ‘inner-city raving lunatics’ he was playing to his constituency. However, by February 2020 his constituency had had a change of heart; the participants at the Q & A Bushfire special from Queanbeyan were in no doubt about the role climate change played.

The hostility of regional Australia to continued climate change denial should not have come as a surprise to those politicians who had assumed that their natural constituency had little truck with climate change. They merely had to look at the compendium of case studies compiled by Monash University which documented that the thinking of regional Australia was really no different to the rest of Australia. That set of case studies dealt with Regional Victoria’s response to Black Saturday – the overall theme from those communities is perhaps summed up by The Centre of Resilience based in Emerald:

[We aimed] to develop a community development strategy that connected businesses, community groups, local education, events and the arts by exercising our relationships in a practical way and developing local management capacity. The government representatives told us to ‘Say No to the community, scale back and stick to your core business’. We rejected this advice and set about acting on our vision.

‘Community continuity’ encompasses a variety of planning, preparatory and related activities which are intended to ensure that community functions will either continue to operate despite serious incidents or disasters that might otherwise have interrupted them, or will be recovered to an operational state within a reasonably short period.

The goal of CoR is to contribute to community continuity by encouraging the efficient and effective use of existing social, natural, economic and built community-based assets in a progressive and sustainable way.[2]

Right around Australia there is an emerging view that these disasters need to be seen as a unique opportunity for nation building. As I listen to communities around Australia it is clear that we have moved on from the climate change debate. Australia is looking at developing local strategies for sustainable living. We are becoming increasingly aware that the short-term policies pursued by our politicians is kicking the problem in the long grass, as a nation we are of the view that we cannot afford to leave the next generations with problems that could have been nipped in the bud in 2020.

So, what could be done almost immediately? A good place to start is with funding. Yes, it is expensive to make a rapid transition to a carbon neutral economy. The big stumbling block in our political thinking is that this generation is asked to make sacrifices in the interests of future generations. Why should we pay for benefits that may not come until some 100 or 200 years in the future? The answer is simple – we don’t. There is no reason why we cannot raise the trillions of dollars needed by entering into a 100- or 200-year loan.

There are at least three things we could do almost immediately. The Royal Commission into the Black Saturday fires recommended shifting to a decentralised energy network. At the time it reported the cost of switching to renewable microgrids was still prohibitively expensive. The cost of these has come down. Were we to invest in micro-grid technology we could become a world leader in state of the art micro-grids. We could design these so they fit into a large container – meaning that we can manufacture and export these microgrids to the many communities in Asia and Africa for whom connection to the national grid is prohibitively expensive.

The second initiative would be to accelerate the shift to hydrogen power. This can be done by simply setting a target that by 2030 we can only buy either all electric or hydrogen powered vehicles. We have seen that government decisions to phase out the use of fossil fuel has encouraged innovation – there is no reason why we cannot join that party.

Plasma furnaces – one of the problems that the world faces is how to deal with waste. There are a number of plasma furnaces around the globe that can process all waste. These are generally small scale – ideally suited for our regional settlements. Again, if we invest our energy into improving on that technology we have another export industry for the problem of waste (especially plastic waste) is a global problem.

These three ideas are but the tip of the iceberg. We need to acknowledge that changes in technology will mean changes in the employment profile. However, if we commit to a principle that no-one will be left behind, that we are not in the business of closing down businesses and throwing workers on the scrap heap much of the resistance will dissipate. We also need to stress that the government’s continued support for coal is doing no-one (other than some very wealthy mine owners) any favours – the writing is on the wall for the fossil fuel industry to continue to use tax payer funds to prop up unproductive industries is myopic. We are far better off working with communities to enable them to develop successful enterprises that do not depend on fossil fuel.

  1. Crowe, D., Deputy PM slams people raising climate change in relation to NSW bushfires, in Sydney Morning Herald. 2029: Sydney.
  2. University, M. Centre of Resilience. 2008 08/02/2020]; Available from:


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  1. New England Cocky

    “Where is the money coming from?” is the incorrect question. Rather, “where will the decentralised government jobs, local alternative energy grids of roof top energy, and how will the miners displaced from dangerous COAL mining be re-trained in alternative energy technologies?”

    The funding answer is simple ….. charge political parties and political influencers to register then require 24/7/365 public scrutiny of donations limited to $1,000 per person per year with all corporate donations banned, with full disclosure of all donors and their corporate connections.

  2. Pingback: Carbon Neutral by 2050 … or earlier #auspol - News Oz

  3. Ray Tinkler

    “where will the decentralised government jobs,”

    This so called “Christian” right govt does not want decentralised govt. It wants the opposite. Decentralised govt would make it much harder for the select few to make the laws and have the tight control that is necessary to oversee a subservient nation. We don’t have a PM who is acting like a dictator that will allow a weakening of his position in that manner. Minions who follow orders if they know what’s best for them, yes.

  4. whatever

    It looks like Angus Taylor is going ahead with a ‘fear and loathing’ campaign against renewables.
    This is a continuation of the nonsense Pauline Hanson was spreading before the election. Renewable Energy is somehow dangerous to the rest of the electricity grid, and causes “spikes” and short-circuits, leading to blackouts.

  5. Terence Mills

    Seventy Three countries have set 2050 as being their carbon neutral target : the Business Council of Australia are backing it.

    Boris Johnson is calling on countries around the world to follow the UK in pledging to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as part of his government’s presidency of the UN’s climate talks this year.

    Angus Taylor this morning says that the coalition policy is to continue to play politics as it has worked for them in the past !

  6. New England Cocky

    @Ray Tinkler: The late Bill McCarthy (ALP Armidale then Northern Tablelands) successfully “encouraged” the NSW Wran ALP government to decentralise about 110 government department jobs into Armidale during his 1976-1986 reign. The Greiner LNP government stripped these jobs out, virtually over night simultaneously with the loss of about 100 Telstra jobs lost to automation of country telephone exchanges. The impact on the impact on the Armidale economy was enormous.

    So the reverse, decentralising government jobs, would have a positive effect creating local economic booms for the towns receiving the re-located government jobs.

    However, I do agree that the present Smirkie Sacked from Marketing has a centralist approach to establishing a fascist government that will push up metropolitan residential prices for the benefit of apartment developers (many being Liarbral Party supporters or donors) at the “unimportant” cost of the health and welfare of the subject Australian voters.

    @whatever: Gussie Taylor’s “fear and loathing campaign” is just political fluff and self-serving noise because the national electricity gird was gold plated during the Gillard Labor government period before privatisation pushed up prices through the roof. All/most power-lines composing the grid were duplicated to maintain supply under emergency situations. So, there is absolutely no reason what so ever for network line overload.

  7. Ken Fabian

    If Morrison thinks he knows what the costs of climate action + inaction will be in 2050 (both will have costs) he must have added predicting the future to the miracles he has been granted.

    No-one can know what the energy infrastructure of 2050 will be or what it will cost, not even if that is Collinsville coal power stations and Liddel life extended until then. And no-one can know what the climate and extreme weather costs will be, in an “ideal” RW climate science denying world, where emissions targets are abandoned entirely – but we can still be confident that doing the things that make 3 or 4 or 5 degrees most likely will increase those costs enormously.

    But Labor seems incapable of developing even a simple narrative based on the truth of the problem’s seriousness that counters even the most egregious of LNP arguments – and I suspect it is because they are wary of making climate and energy a priority issue, or having to say out loud that a world without emissions won’t have coal jobs or coal royalties. Whether it is fear of NewCorp or fear of internal divisions coming to a head or fear of sounding like The Greens or – like the LNP – because most of their MP’s have never read an IPCC report and aren’t making their choices on the basis of science based advice, Labor isn’t willing to fight the LNP on climate. As long as they won’t fight the LNP on climate it makes voting for them because of climate look pointless – and our nation becomes the loser for it.

  8. johno

    Trump must be unhappy with Boris for pledging net zero by 2050. He still has Scotty for marketing on his side. Go Bernie.

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