(Bloomberg) — Australia needs to “stretch” its emissions targets to tackle climate change faster, said former central banker Guy Debelle, who made a dramatic career switch this year to help drive the country’s energy transition.
“Stretched targets here are absolutely essential because the planet’s not just sitting around waiting, it’s continuing to warm,” said Debelle, who was tipped to become the nation’s next central bank chief before taking a role last month as chief financial officer of Fortescue Future Industries. “Real stuff needs to be done now.”
Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised to cut carbon emissions 43% by 2030 from 2005 levels, compared with the previous government’s goal of 26% to 28%. That brings Australia in-line with Canada, South Korea and Japan, though still less ambitious than the US, the European Union and the UK.
Debelle believes Australia is in a position to go even harder because of its huge potential to generate clean energy profitably.
“Given the capacity to produce cheap renewables, it’s actually just an economic proposition,” Debelle said in an interview before starting his new role. “We’ve got huge capacity to produce it ourselves here in Australia and be more than self sufficient — be an export industry as well.”
Debelle’s new boss, Andrew Forrest, has ambitious plans to become one of the world’s biggest producers of green hydrogen and has criticized the nation’s strong coal lobby, joining fellow Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes.
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Forrest’s mining company Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. aims to become carbon neutral by 2030, while eliminating emissions completely in its materials supply and operations.
“Scope 1 and 2 emissions are pretty much going to be zero by 2030,” Debelle said. “It’s not net zero. It’s actually going to be zero. It’s actually decarbonizing, without using carbon offsets.”
He said some state governments and Australian businesses are on a similar path, so for the country as a whole, “it is achievable to go faster.”
Australia’s delay in addressing climate change has made the nation a laggard among advanced economies. Coal is still among the top exports from the country, which is one of the world’s highest per-capita emitters. Its energy transition policy is also heavily dependent on increased use of natural gas, which still produces carbon emissions.
Prime Minister Albanese took office in May, vowing to enact new climate legislation. On Tuesday, during a two-day energy forum in Sydney attended by global energy ministers, advisers and scientists, he promised a “new era” of climate action.
But Russia’s war in Ukraine has complicated global efforts to rein in fossil fuels, by pushing up prices of oil, gas and coal, making them more valuable to producers such as Australia. That’s raised questions about global leaders’ commitment to curbing emissions rapidly.
“A key part of my job is to convince people that actually the green solutions that we’ve got are absolutely viable,” Debelle said. “If we don’t take those opportunities, someone else will.”
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