Regional Australians, including those in coal mining regions, could be the biggest beneficiaries of Australia's transition to renewable energy generation, according to one of the country's leading economists.
Author of the landmark 2008 climate review Professor Ross Garnaut says the cost of taking action to address climate change have dropped dramatically in the decade since, leaving Australia well positioned to capitalise on the rapid transition to a zero emissions future and become a global energy superpower.
Doing so would unlock cheap energy that could be used to refine raw materials rather than ship them overseas for processing. That energy could also create massive opportunities for exporting green power via high capacity undersea cables into neighbouring countries or to produce clean hydrogen that could replace existing gas exports.
"The economics have changed since my original report," professor Garnaut said during an Australian Community Media podcast interview.
"The opportunities were always there, but now they're much greater and they're coming earlier than anticipated.That's more jobs and higher incomes, disproportionately concentrated on rural and provincial areas and many of the new jobs will be in the areas currently the centre of the coal industry," Professor Garnaut said.
"Towns like Newcastle and Gladstone, Portland, Wyalla and Port Augusta will be flourishing towns and there will be new industrial towns and centres through rural and provincial Australia. Carbon farming and biomass will be big industries. Farmers and landowners will earn much more income from this than they currently earn from wool and meat and indigenous communities with management responsibilities for over a million square kilometres of the Australian landscape will be doing very well out of that."
He hopes his blueprint for growing Australia's economy will finally move the national conversation on from the bitter rancour that dominates many conversations over climate change and emissions reductions.
Australia is ramping up investment in a national hydrogen energy industry, with a $370 million fund for new projects gaining support at Friday's Council of Australian Government meeting of state and federal energy ministers in Perth. NSW also announced plans last week to create a massive renewable energy zone centred around Dubbo.
"We have several very big advantages. We have the richest renewable energy resources, definitely of any developed country and ... our superiority is overwhelming. Australia still is the lucky country in terms of wind and solar resources.
"So play our cards right on the way to meet our Paris goals, unless we muck it up we should be the low cost energy country in a zero emissions world."
Professor Garnaut said the uncertainty which had inhibited investment in the last decade would fade as the federal goverment came to understand the potentials for jobs and growth.
"By focusing on what shouldn't be contentious - that we should take advantage of economic opportunity - I'm hoping we can move beyond rancour and there were some signs of that at Friday's COAG meeting.
"I'm optimistic about our democracy sooner or later being able to grasp opportunities, the incoherence of the last half dozen years makes one wonder about that but there have been times in history where we've been able to respond to opportunities.
"I'd back Australian democracy to take advantage of the opportunity once that opportunity has been explained to the Australian people," he said.
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