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How net zero by 2050 will affect Aussie jobs and trade

·3-min read
A wind farm in China and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will soon announce his stance on climate action ahead of the global climate summit (Source: Getty)

The phrase ‘net zero by 2050’ has been everywhere lately, because it is the year that governments around the world are committing to end carbon emissions.

According to the Climate Council of Australia 'net zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

Net zero means completely phasing out fossil fuels and other sources of emissions, but this has concerned those who work in mining and agriculture - two of the largest emissions producers.

So for a country like Australia, where so much of what we do and a large portion of our trade comes from the exact industries that will need to undergo vast change, what will net zero by 2050 look like here?

This is what net-zero emissions could look like in Australia.

Effect on jobs

The main concern is around job losses. There are entire towns in Australia, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, that have been built on mining.

For these Australians, there is a great concern around what will happen to their jobs and towns if the country stops mining.

Of course, it wouldn't all happen overnight and the Federal Government has said it will be investing into innovation to help the sector pivot to a greener future.

And, despite those fears committing to net zero could impact tens of thousands of jobs, research by UTS found renewable energy positions provided a good match for existing coal jobs across the workforce.

The study found the renewable energy sector would be a major source of jobs in the next few years and depending on the policy decisions taken now, the industry could create 20,000 new jobs in the next five years.

“Renewable energy currently employs more people than the domestic coal sector, and employment would be comparable to the entire coal workforce under the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) renewable growth scenarios,” the study said.

The study also concluded around 75 per cent of renewable energy job opportunities by 2035 could be distributed across regional and rural Australia.

Effect on trade

It is no secret that Australia's largest export is iron ore, but in a zero emissions world iron ore mines would likely have to be shut down - unless they could figure out how to be completely carbon neutral.

For example, Australia's iron ore exports are forecast to earn around $700 billion over the six years to 2026.

The hit to the Australian economy would be massive if we could no longer export commodities. 

However, some of our largest trading partners are also turning away from fossil fuels and looking to hit net zero by 2050.

China, Japan and South Korea have all set targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by around 2050 and they also happen to make up around two-thirds of Australia’s fossil fuel exports.

So even without Australia turning away from fossil fuels, other countries will be turning away from Australia's exports regardless.

In fact, the Reserve Bank of Australia said it expected Australia’s coal industry to take a substantial hit between now and 2050, and exporting green energy could be the solution.

“Based on emission scenarios consistent with these commitments, we find that Australia's coal exports could decline significantly by 2050, with a more modest effect likely for liquefied natural gas exports; both may be offset to some degree by increases in green energy exports,” the RBA said.

Countries committed to net zero

Countries that have already committed to a target of net zero by 2050 include:

  • Canada

  • The United States

  • The United Kingdom

  • New Zealand

  • Spain

  • South Korea

  • Japan

  • Germany

  • South Africa

  • China

Additionally, the entirety of the European Union has also committed to a 2050 target.

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