Low-carbon transition will ‘happen gradually, then suddenly’: Garnaut

By William Kulich

Australia’s transition to a low-carbon economy “will happen gradually, and then it will happen suddenly,” according to professor Ross Garnaut.

The high-profile economist, who just released his new book Superpower, told the Melbourne Press Club that existing energy generation and industrial regions would be among the first to change. In fact, they must do so quickly to save jobs.

"We are the natural home of industries that use a lot of energy,” Professor Garnaut said, adding that Australia is "by far the world's biggest supplier of iron oxide [and] aluminium ore."

"We will lose [existing] aluminium smelters… within a decade if we stay with the current coal-based systems; they're just not economic anymore."

Professor Garnaut discussed the “transformational opportunities” of a low-carbon economy, answering the questions of “how big, where, and when” the transition will be.

He said using hydrogen instead of coke when smelting iron and aluminium oxide would be an “immense” opportunity which “would give you more jobs, more value, [and] more exports than all of our coal and gas combined.”

Regional areas stand to benefit from decarbonisation thanks to hydrogen's compatability with coke-based smelters, and existing transmission infrastructure acting as the backbone for low-cost renewable energy.

“At first the biggest opportunities will be in the old industrial centres of [coal power] generation,” Professor Garnaut said.

“We can give all of those industries a new life by making good use of the low-carbon opportunity of renewable energy, and that can happen right now.

"As soon as we start doing that, not only will those industries survive, they'll expand and become very much larger.

“It will happen gradually at first, and then Australians will become aware of the immensity of the opportunity and then it will all happen at once.”

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