(QESP Editor’s Note: The following is an extract from an  ABC News Breakfast interview  By Patrick Wood, first posted 13 Jan 2020, 11:07am, Updated 14 Jan 2020. The original, with  a Video and links to Interviews with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-13/ross-garnaut-on-bushfires-scott-morrison-climate-change/11861846. ) 

Australia could have avoided the scale of the devastating bushfires, Professor Ross Garnaut has said as he warned the situation would continue to worsen if there wasn’t global action on climate change, something he said didn’t have to come at the expense of the economy.

Key points:

  • Professor Ross Garnaut has backed Scott Morrison’s plan to protect the economy
  • He outlined how Australia could still profit from minerals in a zero-emissions world
  • Professor Garnaut says carbon pricing is a “cheaper, faster” way to reduce emissions

The economist said he “strongly endorsed” Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s focus on reducing emissions without damaging the economy, and believed Australian industries could still reap the benefits of the country’s mineral resources in a zero-emissions world.

As this bushfire season has claimed lives and thousands of homes, Professor Garnaut has become a focus on the debate around climate change and the Government’s response.

That is because in 2008 he conducted a widescale review into the impact of climate change on Australia and its economy, and came to a conclusion: the nation would face a more frequent and intense fire season by 2020.

As that prediction comes to pass, the Prime Minister is facing renewed scrutiny on the Government’s climate change policy and whether it will change due to the fires.

Professor Garnaut said the bushfire crisis could have been avoided if Australia, as part of a global effort, had “done a lot more much earlier”.

“The tragedy has been building over a long time,” he said.

“Things will continue to get worse … until the world has zero net emissions of greenhouse gases.”

In this zero-emissions world, Professor Garnaut argued Australia could be a world leader by processing its minerals locally using renewable energy.

“I think the point about avoiding cuts to the economy is a sound one,” he said in response to the Prime Minister’s interview.

“The way you make steel in a zero-emissions economy is using renewable energy to make hydrogen, to make steel, instead of using coal.

“The way you make aluminium in a zero-emissions world economy is to use renewable energy to turn bauxite and aluminium oxide into aluminium metal.

“Australia is by far the biggest exporter of aluminium ores and iron ores, [and] when the world is producing aluminium and iron without emissions, we’ll be the place that’s done. So it will be positive for the economy.

“So I strongly endorse the Prime Minister’s focus on getting to zero emissions without damaging our economy. It can do us a lot of good.”

Professor Garnaut said putting a price on carbon was a good option, but one he acknowledged was not going to happen with the current Government.

“We would have got to low emissions much more cheaply if we’d had an economy-wide carbon price, but you can get there without a carbon price,” he said.

“For the time being we have to make progress without a carbon price. We can do that.

“We would make faster and cheaper progress later on if later we adopted a carbon price.”

He said the current fires could also prompt a shift in the way the country tackled climate change.

“My reading of the complex electoral arithmetic of the last election is that on balance the electorate was favouring stronger action on climate change,” he said.

“Not in every place. The coal-producing areas in the Hunter Valley and up the Queensland coast were very nervous.

“We have to show those communities that there are alternatives … [that] those places can do very well in the zero-emissions economy of the future.

“But we’ve actually got to develop the programs that have them doing very well.”

Topics: science-and-technologyclimate-changeenvironmentgovernment-and-politicsaustralia

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