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Zero carbon target possible by 2050 with renewables -

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ELEANOR HALL: An organisation dedicated to a low carbon future says Australia could achieve a zero carbon emission target by 2050 without major structural changes to the economy.

ClimateWorks Australia will release its report at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in New York.

It was developed as part of an international project on decarbonisation by the world's 15 major carbon emitters, that was commissioned by the UN secretary general.

As Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: ClimateWorks Australia was set up in 2009 by Monash University and the Myer Foundation. Its research is focussed on finding a way for the world to transition to a low carbon future.

It's released a report today which claims to show how Australia can prosper in a low carbon world using technologies that already exist.

ClimateWorks Australia executive director Anna Skarbek.

ANNA SKARBEK: In a world that is decarbonising to achieve the two degrees climate goal, what that would mean is that the transition to a low carbon electricity system does have to start accelerating very quickly over the next decade.

And what we find is that no matter what mix of technologies we use by the middle of this century, whether its renewables alone or renewables plus CCS (Carbon dioxide capture and storage) or even renewables with nuclear, what we find is that renewables a majority of the mix and that occurs by around 2030.

The reason for that is technology costs are falling so quickly that it becomes cost competitive in a world where there's a constraint on emissions.

ALISON CALDWELL: In one scenario electricity is supplied solely from renewables, particularly solar with back up thermal and battery storage.

Another scenario includes using carbon capture and storage or nuclear power.

Anna Skarbek again.

ANNA SKARBEK: For example, when the Garnaut Review was done as recently as 2008, something such as biofuels to be used in aviation was ruled out as not feasible.

But since then there's been an entirely successful civil aviation commercial flight run on biofuels. And we can run our cars on electric batteries that would run off the zero carbon electricity.

There are already plans in the next few years for all the major car makers to be selling large volumes of electric cars in China for example, and across Europe and we would expect those models come to Australia too.

ALISON CALDWELL: In some of the scenarios that you've got here, you've got electricity scenarios, one of which is nuclear - up to 27 per cent generation from nuclear. But we're not doing that yet in Australia.

ANNA SKARBEK: No that's right and we're not advocating that we must. But what we're showing is that if Australia wanted to go down that path, we find that it competes on costs to achieve about a quarter of the mix.

But it's not necessary, it's possible that large scale renewables could also achieve that remaining quarter of the electricity mix through geothermal or through large scale solar thermal with batteries.

Other countries are using nuclear more extensively in their mix and so for the completion of our research we wanted to show how the evidence appears.

ALISON CALDWELL: To be asking people to do this, it's going to cost people a fortune to make the transition.

ANNA SKARBEK: When it's done in a coordinated way and planned, the costs that we've identified are indeed quite modest.

What we've found is that over the next few decades there would need to be an increase in electricity costs obviously, to pay for this new low carbon infrastructure.

But what we've found is that's around 40 per cent over the next few decades and that is less than national incomes would rise, it's less than GDP growth, so that the household incomes would grow more than that increase.

And importantly, technologies are improving so fast that energy efficiency means that households could use less energy than they do now. In fact 50 per cent less.

ALISON CALDWELL: The report is being presented at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in New York.

ELEANOR HALL: Alison Caldwell.