Risk and reward in decarbonising NSW economy, says chief scientist

Risk and reward in decarbonising NSW economy, says chief scientist

However, the authors, which include the chief scientist and an expert panel, also signal that one of the government’s biggest challenges will be keeping public support for what will be disruptive shifts.

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“The case for, and progress of, transitions should also be clearly communicated to stakeholders to maintain understanding and support for change,” they said.

The report comes days after state Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean unveiled the first stage of his government’s Net Zero Plan. The policy, covering the 2020-30 decade on the way to a carbon neutral economy by 2050, would draw in an estimated $11.6 billion of new investment and 2400 jobs.

Mr Kean said the government would continue to assist the development of low-emissions technologies and services to help make NSW more climate resilient, as outlined in the chief scientist’s report.

“We’re already developing programs that will support the commercialisation of promising technologies that can help our high-emissions industries remain competitive as the world reduces emissions,” Mr Kean said.

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“We’re also taking action to gradually decarbonise the state’s largest carbon emitter, the energy generation sector.”

The financial and insurance industry, with an annual gross value of more than $70 billion, is also among the best placed to benefit from and drive the carbon-reduction effort, the scoping paper found.

Direct physical risks from climate change, such as from more extreme weather, were also moving investments, as were rising risks “for carbon intensive goods … like fossil fuels”, it said.

The energy sector, the state’s and Australia’s largest source of emissions, has among the best prospects with wind and solar farms already “more cost-effective” than new black coal-fired power plants.

Depending on policy interventions and other factors, NSW may source as much as 58 per cent of its power from renewables by 2030, the paper found.

Electrification of transport offered many opportunities, too, although policies will be needed to ensure the take-up of such technology “does not lead to greater fossil fuel generation”.

Similarly, the use of technology to manage the timing when people charge their electric cars could decrease the potential peak power load by as much as 450 per cent by 2040.

The paper, though, makes only limited reference to the risks and opportunities facing coal, the state’s largest export industry with shipments worth about $17 billion a year.

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Expertise in detection of fugitive emissions offers one opportunity to cash in, while carbon capture and storage technologies may provide growth “in some hard-to-abate sectors”, it said.

Carbon dioxide removal, such as by planting trees, will also provide growth prospects, particularly for rural areas.

Similarly, synthetic biology, which can increase the efficiency of food and other crops, will likely help efforts to cut emissions in a range of sectors, the paper said.

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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