While the global community is stepping up plans and actions to respond to climate change, Australia is responding otherwise. Under the current political leadership, Australia’s attitude towards global cooperation has been recalcitrant.

Tony Abbott’s budget cuts on environment , along with anti-climate change initiatives, remain a controversial issue triggering non-stop protests and rallies nationwide. But in the midst of the chaos there was some good news as renowned economist and professor Jeffrey Sachs arrived in Australia to launch a clean energy initiative.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs leads the Launch of How Australia can Thrive in a Carbon World in Melbourne. (Photo: Rowena Dela Rosa Yoon)

“This is not a great budget, but a great debate,” Professor Sachs said.

Noting the crucial role of Australia in preventing a climate change tipping point, Sachs led the launch of ‘How Australia can Thrive in a Carbon World, Pathways to Prosperity in 2050’ in Melbourne on May 21. The launch was sponsored by Monash Sustainability Institute and The Myer Foundation.

Obviously disappointed with the budget, Sachs said Australia has a critical role in leading the world towards a low carbon and yet still a prosperous global economy. For one thing, Australia’s per capita emissions are amongst the highest in the world driven by agriculture, industry and coal-based electricity.

Australia leads per capita carbon emissions (Image: Supplied)

He said decarbonisation has been underway, including Australia’s trading partners with a goal of economic prosperity - yet with improved air quality, energy security and improved standards of living. The project underlines a tough challenge for Australia’s competitiveness driven by emissions from the country’s key exports, including coal, gas, oil and beef. The Monash University team, however, emphasises that Australian economy is resilient and diverse. The largest industry which occupies 52 percent of the  GDP is the service sector. The carbon emissions sectors such as mining, manufacturing, agriculture and forestry share a lesser portion to the GDP.

The mission of the project is to map out viable pathways to reduce dangerous carbon emissions. Pathways may include increasing energy efficiency, shift to low carbon resources, and non-energy abatement and sequestration. Sachs said there have been a lot of talks going on and what the global community needs to see is a showcase of a pathway that is viable and achievable. The working paper outlines:

This means that each country will gain insights such as what China is predicting in terms of renewable energy growth, what Europe and the US are assuming with regards to take up of energy efficiency, and what India’s demand for coal may be.

Decarbonization is coordinated globally but driven locally with the participation of 13 countries which collectively represent more than 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The project is being coordinated by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) – which is an international network of universities and research institutions. Countries participating include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United States.

SDSN appointed ClimateWorks Australia and the Australian National University to jointly lead Australia’s involvement, with modelling by CSIRO and the Centre of Policy Studies at Victoria University. After the launch, the project expects each of the participating countries to prepare summaries of example pathways modelled and demonstration of the technological solutions for deep decarbonisation. The summaries will be included in a SDSN ‘Phase 1’ report to be released in July 2014. It will be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in preparation for the UN General Assembly meeting and Climate Change Summit in New York City this coming September. Australia’s story will be presented to a global audience.

Professor Sachs is known for his work on poverty eradication, including his bestselling books – Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet and The End of Poverty. He is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.