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Zero net emissions = zero net energy

By Geoff Carmody - posted Wednesday, 10 August 2022

In more or less democratic countries, future zero net emissions (ZNE) promises have been made by governments. 'Virtue signalling' about ZNE today – the 'what' and the 'when' – has obscured practical questions about the required future 'how'?

Australia needs restoration of affordable, reliable electricity. On affordability, the NEM is faring badly, based on AEMO/ACCC advice.

I assume advisers 'speak truth to power', not echo political ideology. They'll have warned against rushed cutting off fossil fuels, and banning nuclear, without enough alternative energy. Higher power costs are here now. More areunavoidable. Less reliability coming?


Assume 'virtue signalling' today about reducing emissions is intended actually to deliver ZNE in future.

How? Inconvenient truths are rife here. Energy, from any source, fuels every bit of supply. Neither energy nor supply are 'free'.

Just to approach ZNE requires greater energy efficiency.

  • There's considerable scope for this in buildings (heating, cooling), and transport (fuel efficiency and emissions standards).
  • There's maybe some scope for it in carbon capture and storage (CCS), but at scale?
  • Providing a broad-based, transparent, price on emissions would induce broad-based emissions reductions over time.

This process will be slow, because effects must cover the large existing stocks of buildings, motor vehicles, etc. Emissions reductions come at the margin, as older stock is modified, retro-fitted, or scrapped, with new increments compliant with new emissions rules.

This isn't enough. Growing, more energy-efficient, economies may reduce emissions growth, but emissions still grow. Activities with negative emissions must grow a lot to offset such emissions growth. ZNE requires net emissions growth to stop.



One way or another, all current living standards, and increases therein, require energy inputs. For example:

  • Humans and their farm animals must breathe, oxidising air and expelling CO2.
  • They must also eat and drink food and liquids as an energy source. What energy sources produce this fuel?
  • Factories, offices, households, transport and other service industries consume energy too.
  • Can anybody advise energy sources for these that are zero emissions across their entire supply chain?
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About the Author

Geoff Carmody is Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, a former co-founder of Access Economics, and before that was a senior officer in the Commonwealth Treasury. He favours a national consumption-based climate policy, preferably using a carbon tax to put a price on carbon. He has prepared papers entitled Effective climate change policy: the seven Cs. Paper #1: Some design principles for evaluating greenhouse gas abatement policies. Paper #2: Implementing design principles for effective climate change policy. Paper #3: ETS or carbon tax?

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