New Chair's observations on the climate change challenge

The Climate Change Authority’s new Chair has provided some initial insights and observations on the climate change challenge, noting the magnitude of the task but that Australia is well-placed with world leading institutions.   

The role of the Climate Change Authority is to provide independent, expert advice through its statutory reviews and special reviews requested by the Minister or Parliament, as well as research reports it initiates itself. In observing that the Authority’s role is not to tell the Government what needs to be done but to contribute to how it could be done, Mr King outlined the principles the Authority has regard to under section 12 of the Climate Change Authority Act 2011. These principles require the Authority to take a balanced and holistic view of climate change - one that delivers results for the entire nation.

To deliver the substantial emissions reductions required to meet our commitments, Mr King reflected on how Australia has world class climate infrastructure. And that this infrastructure can be leveraged as part of the support Australia offers to other nations as we work together to reduce global emissions. It comprises the various bodies that regulate, invest in, report against and advise Government on climate change. They include the Emissions Reduction Fund/Climate Solutions Fund architecture, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency), the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme, Clean Energy Regulator, as well as the Climate Change Authority.

While the energy sector’s level of emissions is often the subject of public focus and debate, Mr King noted that this important sector is already well on its way to substantial emissions reductions. The same cannot be said for other parts of the economy. So it is a mistake to see emissions reduction solely through how much can be achieved in this sector.

Mr King expressed his confidence in the ability of technology and the market to be enablers for emissions reduction. He highlighted the crucial role for the private sector in mobilising the capital required to fund the low emissions transition, noting that private investment in renewable energy shows how solutions that once required subsidies are now attractive investments in their own right.

Mr King observed that new technologies will be required to get to net zero globally, but that it would be a mistake to wait for ‘silver bullets’ and that we need to do more to reduce emissions now with the technologies already available to us. A fuel and technology agnostic approach that focuses on maximising emissions reduction is one that has the most chance of success. Incremental advances could leverage legacy technologies or assets. Indeed, starting early and working to reduce emissions using existing technology is far more efficient and effective than waiting, and hoping, that bigger breakthroughs will do all the work.

In reflecting on how the whole economy must contribute, Mr King observed that “the first 10% of reductions in a sector is easier to achieve than the last 10%”. While Australia’s economy includes some significant carbon intensive resources, achieving net zero emissions will require a combination of abatement, sequestration, elimination as well as substitution.  

Looking forward to COP26 in Glasgow, Mr King sees Article 6 negotiations as pivotal and the likely emergence of bilateral carbon bubbles as a reality Australia should be ready to engage with. There is much Australian infrastructure that can be relied upon, that is trusted and tested, that could underwrite the global architecture around which these bubbles could operate within.

While the challenges are significant Mr King is optimistic that Australia can continue to contribute to the global effort and that our institutions, including the Climate Change Authority, will assist not only Government but business and the community to achieve the nation’s emission reduction goals.

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