Last week I was both proud and relieved to be at Melbourne Universities’ Asia Centre for the launch of Beyond Zero Emissions’ latest report, Laggard to Leader- How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity. Proud, because the lead authors Fergus Green and Reuben Finigan were colleagues of mine when I completed my Fellowship at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership and relieved because their ambitious report provided an alternative to the seemingly ineffectual process the international climate negotiations have become.
This report outlines the challenge for us as we strive to keep global warming below the 2 degree guardrail given that Australia is currently the world’s largest exporter of coal and has planned fossil fuel mining developments whose embodied carbon emissions dwarf those of our domestic emissions.
They propose ‘co-operative decarbonisation’ in which Australia phases down all emissions over which we have control- that is, those accounted for by our exports as well as those released domestically. They call this our ‘sphere of influence’ over global emissions.
The authors argue that it is our responsibility as stewards of our natural resources to begin this new path:
“Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is one of only a small handful of countries that can lead this process. The main reason for this is simple: our sphere of influence over global emissions is immense. Our high domestic emissions make us an important player, on par with nations like France, Spain and South Korea. But it is our ballooning coal and gas exports that make us a truly critical influence on global emissions.
We can use this position to focus the attention of world leaders on the most important, yet least discussed part of the climate problem: the fact that only one eighth of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves can safely be burned. Australia can help make that which is currently “unthinkable” — a global fossil fuel phase out — a reality. We propose an Australian moratorium on new fossil fuel developments: a bold move from the world’s largest coal exporter that can serve as the centerpiece for a wider call to action. Such a move would maintain the current global price of coal and stop it from falling by an expected 30% this decade. It would be one of the few conceivable ways that any single country could jolt world leaders into action, creating the economic and political momentum to commence immediate global discussion on the best and fairest means to phase-out fossil fuels.”
The authors also offer us hope, reminding us that Australia has an abundance of natural resources like solar and wind and that these renewable technologies are well placed to provide new economies in a zero carbon emission future.
I commend this report to you. It is possible to download the report at http://media.beyondzeroemissions.org/Laggard_Leaderv1.pdf
If you have the opportunity to see Fergus Green and Reuben Finnigan presenting their report please take it- you will be glad you did.