How to achieve a safe climate future

As floods swamp much of Australia, people of faith know that anything is possible with faith - even a safe climate future.

A recently published book, gives hope that we can act quickly enough to help the world ensure a safe climate future.

The Superpower Transformation was written and edited by eminent economist, Professor Ross Garnaut with contributions from other experts. It was discussed by Garnaut and prominent climate activist, scientist and author, Tim Flannery, as part of the La Trobe University Ideas and Society Program

The book addresses Australia’s great opportunities to lead the world by reducing carbon emissions.

It explains how we can make urgent changes needed to top global heating to 1.5 degrees post pre-industrial times.

Garnaut says the recent federal election was a watershed event resulting in power to Labor, the Greens and Teals, who are committed to action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Action can bring great opportunities such as growth and jobs in new export industries based in rural and provincial areas.

Australia is the world’s biggest supplier of coal and iron ore. It is also rich in several other minerals needed for new industries.

Australia could reduce 8% of the world’s emissions by reducing our personal emissions by 1% and reducing another 7% by exporting zero emissions goods. For instance we could use green hydrogen to manufacture products such as steel.

Australia could export green energy via underwater cable like Michael Cannon-Brookes’ project to send electricity to Singapore. This could supply 15% of its energy needs.

Garnaut says this could expand to Indonesia and to other countries.

Australia’s roof top solar has a bigger uptake than anywhere else in world.

If a house had extra solar panels to charge an electric vehicle during the day, the EV could provide electricity for the house at night.

Garnaut says nuclear energy is not practical as it is much dearer than solar, wind, battery and pumped hydro and could be used for nuclear weapons, although fusion poses a lower risk of this happening.

The war in Ukraine has accelerated Europe’s transition from Russian coal and gas to cleaner technologies.

China gives hope. More than half of the world’s renewable energy equipment is produced and installed in China. China’s coal use peaked in 2013-14.

Despite Garnaut’s optimism he admits that the world is in a dangerous period and might not succeed in avoiding existential danger.

With the world now at more than 1 degree warmer than pre industrial times, we have seen record breaking floods, heatwaves and bushfires. That doesn’t augur well for a world that hopes to limit heating to 1.5 degrees and so far is not acting to even achieve that. 

Garnaut says zero emissions at 2050 will mean heating will not increase further but it will be unsafe, judging by what the world is experiencing now. Carbon emissions must be drawn down. However there is much potential to absorb CO2 in soil and plants by restorative farming. 

He says the government needs to support rapid innovation like the US government does.

To achieve zero emissions by 2050 rich economies should reach zero degrees by 2045, medium economies by 2055 and poor economies by 2065

Garnaut is encouraged by Australian state action such as previously coal dependant Queensland, which aims to reach zero emissions by 2035, WA plans to phase out coal by 2029, and SA has stopped using coal.

Garnaut says Australia might be able to reach zero emissions by 2035.

He says to succeed ‘we must run as fast as we can’.

Marguerite Marshall is a Uniting Church member, trained by Al Gore as a Climate Reality Leader and a journalist.