SYDNEY, 18 MARCH 2022 (RENEWABLE ECONOMY) — Australia has the potential to drive significant emissions reductions across the Asia Pacific region – by as much as four times its own emissions – by decarbonising Australia’s major export industries, new research has found.
The research, undertaken by academics at the Australian National University’s Crawford School, has been published in the journal Energy and suggests Australia could reduce drive regional emissions cuts that amount to almost one-tenth of the Asia Pacific region’s emissions footprint.
The study assessed Australia’s capacity to produce a range of zero emissions commodities, including exports of green steel, hydrogen, and electricity production.
It comes as a range of project developers – such as billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes, Andrew Forrest and others – propose a series of mega-projects that rank in the tens of gigawatts that could be used for green energy exports.
The ANU study found that an Australian supply of zero emissions products could cut the Asia Pacific region’s emissions by around 8.6 percent, while only requiring around 2 per cent of Australia’s landmass for wind and solar energy production.
The researchers say that this could be achieved by focusing by replacing coal and gas with renewable electricity and hydrogen, and cutting emissions in the production of steel and aluminium production.
“Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels, and we have a real chance to shift to a much cleaner export bundle,” professor Paul Burke, a lead author of the research, said.
“Becoming a clean commodity exporter could generate sustainable export revenues for Australia and play a useful role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions well beyond our border.”
According to the International Energy Agency, the Asia Pacific region is responsible for around half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a total of 16.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2019.
The Asia Pacific region also hosts some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies – including three of the world’s largest emitters in China, India and Japan – which has also led to rapid increases in the consumption of fossil fuels, much of which has been supplied by Australia.
But a shift to cleaner energy sources could generate positive economic and development benefits both in Australia, and across the Asia Pacific region, the researchers say.
“With appropriate policy settings, Australia has an opportunity to make major contributions to achieving sustainable development goals in the Asia-Pacific, including for remote Aboriginal communities in Australia,” research co-author Dr Emma Aisbett said.
The researchers said that Australia had been a major enabler of the rising emissions in the Asia Pacific region, having positioned itself as a leading exporter of coal, gas and other resources like iron ore and bauxite that require significant amounts of energy to process.
The study found that globally, an Australian shift to zero carbon exports could contribute to a global emissions reduction of more than 4 percent – a much larger contribution than would be suggested by the size of the Australian population or its economy.
“Consequential emissions from Australia’s benchmark exports vastly exceed Australia’s domestic emissions. Australia thus has the potential to make a disproportionately sizeable contribution to regional and global emission reductions via decarbonising its exports,” the study says.
Co-author of the research, Dr Fiona Beck, said Australia’s potential to tap into its ample supplies of renewable energy resources meant that it was well placed to play a key role in a global shift to decarbonisation.
“Australia has fantastic wind and solar resources, meaning that the area of land needed to produce zero-carbon energy exports is relatively small, and the required solar panels and wind farms could be co-located with existing land uses such as livestock grazing,” Beck said
The research stands in contrast to many who have suggested Australia’s contribution to global emissions is negligible, including prime minister Scott Morrison, who recently downplayed Australia’s responsibility to cut emissions in the wake of devastating floods impacting Queensland and New South Wales.
“I’ll tell you what’s not going to fix climate change… doing something in Australia and then in other developing countries their emissions continue to rise,” Morrison said.