Australia's former environment envoy says the country should remain open minded to using nuclear power and some fossil fuels as it transitions to a low carbon emissions future.
Senior former diplomat Patrick Suckling, who until recently served as Australia's Ambassador for the Environment, told an Australian Community Media podcast that rapidly evolving technology was making as yet commercially unproven carbon capture and storage a real possibility, as were next generation nuclear reactors.
As energy ministers from around the world arrive in Madrid this week for the United National Climate Change Conference, Mr Suckling said the world was taking steps to move rapidly to a low emissions future, but may not be able to move fast enough on renewables alone.
"We have to transition [away from fossil fuels] as quickly as possible ... but it's wise from an Australian perspective to take a technology neutral approach because you just don't know which technologies are going to come on in what timeframe," he said.
"The current existing installed capacity for power of all those fossil fuels will mean we exceed the Paris goals [to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius] without even building anything else.
"The average life of a coal-fired power station in Asia is 12 years and they last 40-50 years, so essentially the message is the world needs to clean this up, whether it's coal, gas or oil and we need to be investing a lot more in technologies that do that sort of clean-up, for example carbon capture and storage which from an Australian perspective is something I believe we should be much more aggressively pushing," he said.
"People are now talking about modular nuclear, much smaller, much safer and more containable reactors - who knows, that could be a technology for Australia if that comes on stream."
The government's latest quarterly emissions figures released last week showed a slight drop of 0.1 per cent, partly due to a reduction in agricultural emissions caused by the drought.
Mr Suckling, who with foreign minister Marise Payne attended the New York climate summit in September in place of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said beneath the headline bitter political debate was a growing consensus among politicians that climate change was a serious issue that required strong action.
Despite having recently quit the role, he said at no time had he been prevented by the government from advocating for action to address climate change. Senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officer Jamie Isbister was earlier this month named as Mr Suckling's replacement.
"The centre of gravity on climate has moved and I think the divisiveness will get less and less because it's so obvious this is a real challenge, it's hurting communities, it's hurting Australians and politicians are recognising that."
He said trials of Allam cycle power plants in the United States which allowed emissions from natural gas turbines to be safely captured and stored were proving cheaper than existing fossil fuels, and could also play a role as renewables came online.
"If that technology gets proven up next year, that's a game changer for gas, so we need to be open minded on technology, including on nuclear," he said.