Building a climate-first economic future, from the ground up

By Michael Bromley

July 18, 2022

circular economy
To have real impact, we need to invest in a circular economy. (Image: Adobe/TSUNG-LIN WU)

The 2022 election was won off the back of overwhelming demand for urgent climate action, with a large teal wave shining a spotlight on citizen disdain for wishy-washy net-zero commitments and the sheer lack of investment in pathways designed to get us there. Now, with the progressive side of politics leading the country forward in both houses, Aussies devastated by the ongoing effects of climate change in the form of unrelenting fire and flood should expect and demand an aggressive approach to the climate agenda.

Climate change minister Chris Bowen is set to unveil the Albanese government’s climate change bill during the first week of parliament sittings in late July, highlighting the government’s intentions to enshrine in law a 43% emissions-reduction target by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Minister Bowen’s comments at the National Press Club in late June on the upcoming parliament session reflected the Labor party’s pre-election promises of boosting electric vehicle (EV) sales through the removal of tariffs and decreasing the reliance on our embattled energy grid on coal and gas.

But when you look at pre-election climate proposals closely, it’s simply not enough to prevent future ecological disasters. Renewables, batteries and EVs alone won’t cap global temperature increases to 1.5°C. To truly give 2030 and 2050 emissions targets a crack, Australia needs a tangible commitment to low-emission technologies that is designed to significantly reduce emissions that are not vague or underwhelming when compared to the action plans of other nations post COP26. Essentially, we need to pivot sharply from the current climate agenda and throw everything we have at what is and will be our nation’s greatest problem, marking 2022 as the turning point in which climate policy and investment matched the sentiment of citizens.

An economy at equal risk of catastrophe as our environment

Our economy is focused on digging deep into the ground for fossil fuels, which we’re consuming at a far more rapid rate than which they are formed. You only need to look at pressures on the current electricity grid and lack of investment in solar and wind energy to see how deep our reliance on fossil fuels truly is.

We still have no plan to phase out oil, gas or coal, and require a rapid turnaround on emissions policies to match the strong pro-climate action vote. Our dependence on a single market destined to shrink under the government’s own modelling, which halves coal production by mid-century, will be our greatest downfall if we fail to act now.

It must be addressed that the way the Australian economy currently functions won’t be acceptable or even practical in the very near future. Weekly, we watch on as the cost of living rises, caused by interest and inflation rate rises, the impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain, and the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Each subsequent spike in fuel and energy prices comes from restricted access to fossil fuels. At this stage, it’s simple maths: a natural disaster, human conflict or international dispute causes economic upheaval. So why haven’t we done more to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and non-renewable energy sources, when climate technology and our own backyard are the solution?

When assessing Australia’s natural habitat and land usage, it’s almost criminal that we don’t lead the world in solar, wind and battery storage technology. With such a large proportion of our land free and available, sitting in direct sunlight for upwards of eight hours a day, we have the capacity to completely adjust how power is sourced and used.

We should already be a global leader in climate technology solutions, and have the means to get there if we can drastically divert our course. Australian voters overwhelmingly showed climate change to be top of their priority list, with apprehension and fear of economic change replaced by the sound of a clock rapidly counting down to a future of environmental disaster. With this shift in mindset and government, we have an opportunity to establish Australia as a climate change leader through the transition to a sustainable, tech-driven economy.

To achieve this progression over the next decade, obstacles facing all forms of emerging technology initiatives, including lack of early-stage funding, minimal regulatory support, and unwillingness from large corporations to partner with emerging technology companies, must be removed.

Enacting change through a collision of ideas

There is a paradox between intention and then actual action or impact. To have real impact, we need to invest in a circular economy and change our mindset from simply reducing waste to supporting new climate initiatives and advancements safeguarding our future. All the technological advancements in the world won’t solve this crisis for us unless we’re willing to adapt and adopt.

To facilitate this change, the newly appointed federal government must think about legislation and regulation that creates advantages for climate technology. It should be cheaper, not more expensive, to use technology that’s better for our ecology and planet. That’s simply not the way it is right now, with the last election won from fear-mongering that a net-zero policy would unleash havoc on the economy and employment rates.

We cannot cling to the hope that a huge technological breakthrough that sucks existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is going to take place without establishing the proper ecosystem to facilitate this innovation. Ideas are all around us, but they’re currently sitting in the minds and desktops of Australians working other jobs that pay the bills.

Innovation and advancement are the collisions of ideas. It’s bringing together people from not only across the nation, but across the globe. Smashing objectives, goals and thoughts together through a diverse range of people will lead to stronger climate outcomes and new opportunities. We must acknowledge that introducing more technology, more innovation and more thinking into our country, is at least as valuable as exporting everything below the ground.

The pathway to sustainable tech innovation

As Australians, we can afford to do what we want, it’s just a matter of choice. We must figure out ways to replenish our economy by not digging things out of the ground and pumping carbon into the air, and cannot pander to the financial influence of mining magnates. Ideas are 100% renewable, and we’re not going to run out of ways to shift the structure of Australia’s economy but we will eventually run out of lithium and coal.

We must grab onto our renewable energy potential and create sustainable, profitable jobs that place Australia at the forefront of a low-carbon global economy built on technology, but only by building the infrastructure and ecosystem required to get there. 

This pathway doesn’t exist right now and is being blocked by naysayers questioning the role of technology in our future. We need an established, clear pathway that allows climate tech companies to finish what they started without falling victim to one of the many obstacles in their way.  Now is the time to think about changing the pillars of the economy by building a pathway to sustainable technology innovation, before it’s too late.


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