Investing in clean energy could fight the recession and the climate crisis, a new study backed by business leaders and scientists has found.
The report from climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions details what it calls the Million Jobs Plan, under which a shift to zero greenhouse gas emissions and clean buildings would deliver hundreds of thousands of jobs in the construction and renewables sectors and ultimately as many as 1 million jobs over five years.
The study is backed by Atlassian co-CEO and cofounder Mike Cannon Brookes; the former chair of Origin Energy and Macquarie Bank Kevin McCann AM; the CEO of First State Super Deanne Stewart; and the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement Christian Figueres.
The plan calls for further stimulus measures aimed at building up Australia’s renewable energy, clean transport and buildings and improved land use to boost jobs.
“This vision of building mass-scale renewables is at the heart of the Million Jobs Plan. Cheap, abundant renewable energy will spark the emergence of whole new industries, such as renewable hydrogen, energy-intensive manufacturing, zero-emissions steel and electricity exports to our Asian neighbours,” the researchers said.
“It also provides the key to reducing energy costs for all Australians. Seizing our competitive advantage in renewable energy is a route to reviving the Australian economy in the short term. But it is also an exciting long term strategy, setting up Australia for a century of economic success.”
Where would the jobs be?
The researchers focused on proposals that are already in the pipeline and which could be accelerated through boosted government and private investment.
One way to do this is for the government to underwrite renewable energy industrial zones with fixed prices of $50-55 per megawatt-hour. The report identified potential areas as Gladstone, the Hunter Valley, Mount Isa and Whyalla, areas that are already industrial regions or that have great growth potential.
“Abundant renewable energy at guaranteed price will establish Australia as a top destination for energy intensive clean industry such as green hydrogen and zero emissions metals,” the researchers said.
The researchers also suggested a national retrofit scheme allowing homeowners to pay for home energy improvements gradually, without facing a huge upfront cost.
“This is very different to the conventional approach to home energy, but anyone with a mobile phone contract is familiar with the basic business model,” they explained.
“Investors have already identified a vast pipeline of clean energy projects in Australia. Unblocking barriers in this pipeline will accelerate construction of many of these projects,” the researchers said.
Deploying 90 gigawatts of renewable energy over five years would create 124,000 construction jobs and 22,000 ongoing roles as workers manufacture batteries and wind turbines, the think tank said.
On top of that, revegetating 27m hectares in five years and 55m hectares over the decade would create 40,000 land care jobs.
“Our plan will create employment, modernise our infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Jobs will be distributed around Australia including the places where traditional heavy industry has gone, droughts and fires have ravaged the agricultural sector, unemployment is high and long-term employment opportunities have appeared increasingly limited.”
The report called for Australia to begin to transition to a “net zero energy home” standard that would mandate the energy design of all new homes, including social housing. It also said Australia should swap 30 per cent of the existing bus fleet with 13,000 electric buses and improve or create 5,000km of cycling lanes.
A new focus on the recyclability of products is also critical, the report said, calling for a national target of 90 per cent recyclability.