Investing in renewable energy could drive Australia's economic recovery


    Research from Beyond Zero Emissions suggests modernising infrastructure, investing in regional jobs and reducing greenhouse gases could build new foundations for economic growth.

    Where will the jobs, investment and upskilling opportunities come from to help secure the pathway to social and economic recovery after the pandemic? In April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “This human tragedy must be a wake-up call. We must build more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global changes we face.”

    In June, the World Economic Forum began its “Great Reset” initiative. WEF chair Klaus Schwab called for “a change of mindset... from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder responsibility”.

    In Australia, Melbourne climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) has released The Million Jobs Plan, a framework for strategic investment. It identifies seven sectors across cities and regions where strategic investment over the next five years would have the most impact and create the most jobs — energy, building, manufacturing, transport, waste recycling, land use and training.

    BZE says rapidly accelerating investment in renewable energy, technology and low greenhouse emissions projects could create 1.8 million new jobs over five years. Among its proposals are new renewable energy generation, transmission and storage projects, a national housing retrofit program, which could reduce energy bills for 2.5 million low-income households, the construction of 150,000 zero-energy social housing dwellings, electrifying transport infrastructure, localised and regional manufacturing and land restoration to restore fragile ecosystems and revegetate 27 million hectares by 2025. The projects would be funded by mostly private and some government investment, and are aimed to overcome the main obstacles to greater low-carbon investment — lack of policy certainty and insufficiently large-scale deals.

    The organisation’s backers include Atlassian co-founder and CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Hamer Family Fund, James Kirby Foundation and Melbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

    BZE chair Eytan Lenko told a discussion forum launch that strategic investment in practical projects provided massive opportunities to cut costs, grow jobs and improve wellbeing. Cannon-Brookes said the strength of the report was that it was not about inventing new technologies, but using technology and resources available today.

    Kevin McCann AM FAICDLife, chair of Citadel Group, Telix Pharmaceuticals and Dixon Hospitality, told the forum that much of the leverage could occur at the state and territory level, where all states had committed to net zero emissions by 2050, and urged an end to the federal policy roadblocks on the issue. For boards looking at future investments, he said, “I’ve been advocating we really need to not look backward, we need to look at new technology that sets us up for the 21st century — in life sciences and energy. Boards understand we cannot go back to the past. “I’d like Nev Power’s group — the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission — to give attention to what BZE has to say.”

    Deanne Stewart, CEO of First State Super, said Australia has a unique opportunity to reset our economy and consider more deeply what the jobs and industries of the future might be. “Bold action is needed and there are significant risks out there,” she said.

    The next stage of this project will include shortlisting priority projects to be presented to the government over the coming months, along with the private investors and partnerships needed to realise these projects.

    Consulting firm McKinsey says that the estimated US$10 trillion in stimulus measures that global policymakers have announced could be decisive for the world’s low-carbon transition. “A climate-smart approach to economic recovery could do much to put the world on an emissions pathway that would hold the average temperature increase to a relatively safe 1.5°C,” it notes. “Since recovery efforts usually involve much higher public spending than governments lay out in non-crisis years, they can bring about extensive, lasting changes in the structure of national and regional economies.”

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