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Discussion paper

Going for zero: state decarbonisation strategies for prosperity in a zero-emission world

Greenhouse gas mitigation Climate change mitigation Climate change Carbon emissions Global warming Australia

This paper explains why states should have a decarbonisation strategy and explores some key policy elements.


Across the world, governments at all levels are implementing policies to reduce carbon emissions, address local air pollution, improve energy productivity, grow new industries and address energy security concerns. While these initiatives are as yet insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change or achieve the internationally agreed goal of avoiding 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, the trend is clear.

What is also clear is the ultimate destination or strategic objective that these policies need to have: the progressive phase-out of emissions to reach net zero levels, or ‘decarbonisation’. The OECD, World Bank and latest IPCC report have warned that avoiding irreversible and severe climate change impacts will require the global economy to be decarbonised before the end of the century. This requires energy systems, particularly electricity, to decarbonise well before then.

Private sector actors are also moving forward. Leading multinational business groups and corporate leaders have called for action to achieve net zero global emissions by 2050. The financial sector is increasingly aware of the risks of ‘stranded assets’ resulting from both global decarbonisation efforts and the physical impacts of climate change.

In Australia recent political and policy turmoil saw state governments retreat from many past climate policy initiatives. However some governments are now reconsidering their position and the risks posed to their economies and communities should they be left behind by this global trend toward decarbonisation.

This paper explains why states should have a decarbonisation strategy and explores these key policy elements:

  1. Setting binding emission limits on major emitting facilities
  2. Incorporating carbon considerations into policy and planning processes
  3. Using procurement and management policies to help build markets for lower emission goods and services
  4. Continuing to develop and link energy efficiency policy frameworks
  5. Providing assistance: funding, technical, regulatory, training
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