Australia must take a commitment to achieve net-zero emissions and a plan for an orderly transition for the closure of the nation’s coal-fired power plants to this week’s climate summit organised by US President Joe Biden to prove it is taking meaningful action on climate change.

“A commitment to decarbonise the Australian economy by at least 2050, combined with strong interim targets, will be essential to realising Australia’s full potential as a clean energy superpower,” says Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton.

“Renewable energy is an Australian success story. Our industry is now generating enough clean energy to power every home in Australia 1.5 times over. In the past five years, Australia’s renewable energy generation has almost doubled, increasing from 14.6% in 2015 to 27.7% in 2020.

“However, to play our role in the global effort to tackle climate change, we need to take further steps to reduce our emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels. The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to begin this process is by decarbonising our electricity system through a massive deployment of renewable energy. Delaying the transition away from coal is not about supporting or protecting jobs.”

Electricity generation is Australia’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and taking action now to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future will lessen the volatility in our climate.

National turnaround

“When it comes to closing Australia’s ageing coal-fired power plants, government has a clear role to play in ensuring that the transition is orderly, maintains energy reliability and security, avoids significant price spikes that have followed past closures, looks after affected workers and communities, and ensures Australia meets its emissions reduction commitments,” says Thornton.

“It’s time to turn Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard around. We can use our considerable renewable energy advantages to export Australian-made clean energy around the world and demonstrate how a modern, clean industrial sector can contribute to the global effort to curb the impacts of climate change.”

Time for a task force

The Clean Energy Council proposes that the Federal Government commits to establishing a task force with a mix of relevant stakeholders to consult on a timeline for the closure of Australia’s domestic thermal coal generation industry. This includes what criteria should be considered in setting such a timeline and what measures are needed to support it.

“Around 10,000 Australians are employed in the domestic coal sector, and in some regions that workforce represents more than 5% of the community,” says Thornton. “Supporting these workers through a planned transition means providing communities with clarity, certainty and options.

“Australia has exceptional potential to do well in a world of ambitious climate change mitigation – but only if we plan, prepare and invest in the emerging low- and zero-emissions opportunities that are before us. Our standout comparative advantage is, of course, our exceptional renewable energy endowment,” says Thornton.

“Renewable energy can deliver strong economic growth while reducing Australia’s carbon footprint and delivering on Australia’s international commitments. The clean energy industry has been the single biggest contributor to Australia’s emissions reductions over the past decade and has proven its ability to meet and beat any target put in front of it.”


Kane Thornton is chief executive officer of the Clean Energy Council.