Rainforest canopy outside Kuranda/Cairns. Image by Nathan Siemers on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nosha/2688970380/

Australia can have it all – economy, and ecology

05 November 2015

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Frank Jotzo is Director of The Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at Crawford School, and director of the School’s Resources, Environment and Development program. He currently teaches the graduate courses Domestic Climate Change Economics and Policy and Issues in Development and Environment.

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Australia can have it all – economic growth, and environmental protection, according to a new study published today in Nature.

The study, lead by CSIRO researcher and Crawford School adjunct Professor Steve Hatfield-Dodds, modelled 20 different scenarios involving economic growth and environmental change in Australia. The authors found that sustainable prosperity is possible in the country, but it will not happen automatically and it will require a shift in policies to mobilise technology and incentivise reduced environmental pressure.

Dr Hatfield-Dodds – who works with Crawford as part of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy (CCEP) – found that the resource-intensity of Australia’s economy and the pressure on the environment could be substantially reduced. Greenhouse gas emissions reductions could be achieved in all sectors of the economy including by locking up carbon in large plantings that included native species.

CCEP Director Associate Professor Frank Jotzo said it is a significant study that proves Australia doesn’t need to make a choice between a thriving economy and an its environmental future.

“This is a landmark study, with an integration of data and analysis never achieved before,” he said. “Some of the early analysis from these modelling tools was reflected in the ‘Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050’ study that Crawford School led jointly with ClimateWorks Australia.”

“The study led by our colleague Dr Hatfield-Dodds shows that more physical activity does not have to result in more environmental damage. Indeed, Australia could see rapid growth in coming decades with easing environmental pressure. And if it works in Australia, it could be successful in many parts of the world.”

Jotzo said that the key to this balanced future was in utilising technology.

“For just about any economic activity, we already have technologies that tread lightly on the earth. We could make all of our electricity from renewable power, use electricity rather than fossil fuels for transport, recycle a large share of water, use farming practices that are friendly to the environment, and so forth.

“But this study confirms what we already knew: the shift to clean technologies does not happen by itself. Typically many of the benefits of cleaner production do not accrue to the businesses that make the decision over which technology to use. The old style, environmentally destructive way of doing things is cheaper if you do not count the damage it does to everyone, and so it will persist unless there is policy to encourage for force the shift.”

He added that the study was good news for Australian policymakers wrestling with how to achieve a balance between economic prosperity and the ecology.

“With this study, Dr Hatfield-Dodds and his colleagues at CSIRO are spelling out Australia’s big challenge for this century: how to keep growing the economy while improving the environment. Their answer will delight anyone who believes that public policy can be shaped to serve in the long term national interest. And their findings should give Australia’s politicians resolve to face up to the big questions of environmental sustainability.”

To read the study go to: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v527/n7576/full/nature16065.html To read the underlying CSIRO National Outlook report go to: http://www.csiro.au/nationaloutlook/

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