As humans, we're hard-wired not to like change. The comfort of familiarity is our preferred status quo, so it is unsurprising that when we are faced with a new situation, there is a tendency to either fight or flee.
When it comes to climate change, our policymakers are no different. Some have accepted the writing is on the wall and the costs of inaction greatly exceed the costs of taking decisive steps to reduce our carbon emissions, including putting in place the policy settings we need to drive investment in clean and renewable opportunities. Using a purely economic lens, the evidence could not be plainer.
Others, however, are still recalcitrant, carefully weighing the impact this change will have on the traditional Australian industries that are carbon-intense, and how it will affect their communities.
This hesitancy amongst some conservative politicians to commit to significantly improved emissions targets is understandable: a transition to a zero-emissions future requires enormous change and large investment. It is no wonder that the Nationals are after detailed modelling that proves farmers and the regions won't be left behind.
My argument to the Nationals is that both objectives can be achieved: a net-zero target and the prosperity of our regions are not mutually exclusive, if we look at this change as an opportunity for our farmers, mining industry and communities.
We might as well take control and ownership of the unstoppable clean energy revolution, accepting it as the new normal, carefully implementing policies that will deliver emissions-reduction whilst supporting our existing industries on their decarbonisation journeys.
Research released last week, commissioned by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Worldwide Fund for Nature Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation, found there is potential for 395,000 clean export jobs and $89 billion in new trade by 2040, in sectors such as green hydrogen and metal, renewable ammonia and critical minerals. The new clean jobs in these vital industries will be in regional Australia.
According to the CSIRO, the rise in low-emissions technology means more potential for Australian mining projects for copper, cobalt, lithium, silicon and more, which can be processed in regional Australia or exported to build solar panels, electric vehicles and wind turbines.
At home, failure to capitalise on the generational opportunities to remake Australia as a renewables and clean industries superpower will inflict a heavy toll. Recent modelling in the US shows waiting until 2030 to enact 2050 net zero policies will make the cost of a green energy transition three-quarters more expensive - and this doesn't account for the immense costs of remediation after climate-induced weather events, or the opportunity cost in failure to gain early traction in the green energy export market.
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Lastly, the cost of inaction would be particularly problematic for Australia. With key trading partners such as Korea and Japan resetting to impressively low emissions targets, there will soon be high demand in the region for critical mineral components and clean fuels - which Australia has the potential, with the right investment, to supply in abundance.
Recently, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, Guy Debelle, issued a clarion call, saying we face a growing risk that finance will increasingly flow to sustainable opportunities elsewhere in the world, as investors "significantly divest" from Australia.
In September, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that "We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world. Were we to find ourselves in that position, it would increase the cost of capital and reduce its availability, be it debt or equity."
Over the past week the Treasurer has been even more emphatic, saying that "the world needs to collectively make the effort on climate, and Australia can't be separate ... When it comes down to it, there are also costs of inaction. Financial markets are moving."
The words now need to be crystallised in policy action, and the clock is ticking. If we continue to delay effective national policy - policy that will drive the new economic trend - and we do not match our counterparts' considerable and escalating commitments to transition to a low-carbon world, there will be geostrategic and trade implications. This is already evident in the emergence of carbon border tariffs such as the European-supported CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism), and increasingly loud calls by our partners for greater ambition from Australia.
The largest survey ever taken of Australians' sentiment on climate shows overwhelming support for ambitious action, renewable energy, and strong reduction targets. Let's embrace this inevitable change and utilise it as a unique opportunity for Australians to prosper in the new age of clean technology.
- Cristina Talacko is chairwoman of the Coalition for Conservation.