As the accelerating effects of climate change ravage swathes of our nation, a new poll has found voters from the coal and gas heartlands of New South Wales and Queensland are ready to cash in on the opportunities of a zero carbon emissions future.
The poll, released on Wednesday, reveals that the clear majority of voters believe the states’ future prosperity lies in clean industries, such as renewable energy exports, critical minerals like lithium and cobalt, and manufacturing renewable products.
Voters in both states have seen the writing on the wall: The era of coal and gas in this country is ending, with only a quarter of voters in Queensland and about one-fifth in NSW saying future prosperity lies in coal and gas.
Moreover, two-thirds of voters say clean jobs, for example in renewable energy, will be the best source of future employment.
Less than a quarter overall back fossil fuels as the best source of future jobs.
Significantly, they recognise that credible and ambitious climate action is good for business and employment.
About 58 per cent in Queensland and 64 per cent in NSW said further cuts to carbon emissions – essential if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius – will increase jobs and boost the economy.
There is also a huge amount of support for Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts (REIPs), regional manufacturing clusters powered completely by renewable energy – 80 per cent of voters in both states support government investment in REIPs.
A report from Beyond Zero Emissions in July found REIPs have the potential to turn regions into export powerhouses, creating tens of thousands of good-quality jobs, and attract billions in new capital investment.
The evidence of the boundless opportunities of the transition to the new economy is clear.
Queensland is poised to become a world leader in renewable energy according to a Climate Council report.
The state economy could become 7 per cent larger – a $780 billion economy – with a workforce employing over 3.6 million by 2050 as it transforms to net zero.
Demand for clean economy jobs in Queensland is forecast to grow 2.5 per cent each year between now and 2030, and could make up three-quarters of top growing occupations this decade.
Modelling has also found that embracing a low carbon economy Australia wide would add $680 billion in economic growth and 250,000 new jobs by 2070.
This is not only great news for workers in the clean economy, but for households and businesses too, with renewables and storage set to push down electricity prices across the country.
With the costs of extreme weather in Australia more than doubling since the 1970s, and Queensland paying more than double any other state or territory, the poll demonstrates clearly how voters understand the potential economic benefits of rapid investment in a clean economy as well as the significant costs if we fail to do so.
The economic threats of weak decarbonisation policy are mounting.
If Australia does not cut emissions deeply this decade and cash in on its potential to lead the world in clean industries, carbon border tariffs will reduce demand for Australian exports, lower economic growth and put thousands of Australian jobs at risk, with 50,000 jobs threatened in Queensland and 20,000 in NSW.
The majority of voters, 60 per cent, also recognise that it’s the regions that will benefit most from the economic transformation to clean industry.
Yet only a minority of respondents, two in 10, feel traditional fossil fuel communities are getting enough help to prepare for our inevitable future without coal and gas.
Regional Australians need the governments at all levels to get behind them with a comprehensive plan, development funding, training and resources to support those who will otherwise bear the brunt.
Australia’s allies and trading partners are already well on the way to net-zero emissions, with Germany now proposing a Climate Club for the G7 and other like-minded countries.
This poll confirms what we’ve been hearing on the ground for a long time – Australians are ready for the journey to decarbonisation, and to transform their communities into clean energy superpowers.
The states are making headway, for example NSW, which is making multibillion-dollar investments in green hydrogen and other clean energy initiatives.
Business leaders are also taking up the charge, for example Andrew Forrest’s $1 billion green hydrogen play in Gladstone.
Our federal political leaders, too, need to step up, and grasp the immense opportunities of the global transition.
The costs of continued inaction to our economy – and our climate – are too great to contemplate.
Nicki Hutley is an economist and a former partner at Deloitte Access Economics, former chief economist at KPMG and Climate Councillor