Climate damage and achieving net zero emissions are enormous challenges – how we act on them will shape Australia’s future.

That’s the message I will deliver at this week’s Jobs and Skills Summit at Parliament House in Canberra. We are fortunate to have secured a panel spot at the summit, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers Thursday 1 and Friday 2 September.

What is the Jobs and Skills Summit?

The Jobs and Skills Summit will bring together around 100 representatives from unions, business, civil society and governments to discuss Australia’s biggest economic opportunities.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to convene the summit as part of his election commitments, in the hope of finding ways to increase wages and employment opportunities across the country.


Don Drane, Facility Manager at Warwick Solar Farm. Photo: Mark Doyle/ACF.

What message will I take to the summit?

Around the world, momentum is building to replace coal and gas-fired power with clean, renewable energy. Australia can become a renewable energy superpower if we seize the opportunity now.

But if we delay, climate damage will only get worse and Australia will miss out on the huge job opportunities and prosperity on offer.

Our regions, like Central Queensland, have the skills and infrastructure the world needs to divest from coal, and everything to gain from an energy transition. Seizing the renewable energy opportunity now can stop the cycles of boom and bust and create long-lasting jobs for the communities that need them.

To position ourselves for success, a national renewable exports strategy is crucial and urgently needed now. It could unlock 400,000 jobs, produce $89 billion in revenue in 2040 and slash climate pollution significantly.

Why we need a national renewable exports strategy

Around half of Australia’s $250 billion export industry is exposed to international shifts to decarbonise. This includes eight of our 10 largest exports: iron ore, gas, metallurgical and thermal coal, gold, aluminium, beef, crude petroleum and copper.

Many of the countries we export to are now focused on the transition away from fossil fuels and tariff penalties for carbon-intensive imports are on the horizon.

Trade is equivalent to 45% of Australia's GDP and directly responsible for one in five Australian jobs. If we continue to rely on these exports without a plan to diversify quickly, everyday Australians around the country will soon feel the economic impacts.

However, Australia can retain its mantle as a reliable exporter by acting decisively to use its natural advantages and know-how to become a renewable energy superpower. The countries that currently buy our coal for electricity generation are looking for clean energy alternatives such as green hydrogen, solar and wind power.


Kidston solar farm, QLD. Photo: Geoff Hunter/Kidston, Genex Power.

Analysis commissioned by ACF, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Business Council of Australia and the World Wildlife Fund found Australia has significant opportunities to:

  • Export hydrogen or ammonia produced with renewable energy
  • Process and export higher value metals like steel and aluminium using renewable energy
  • Export minerals critical for production of clean energy technology
  • Export batteries manufactured in Australia
  • Export education and training services built on our strong clean energy economy

Our choice

A transition to net-zero emissions industries and jobs is now unavoidable, our choice is in how we transition.

If we act with speed and certainty through a national renewable exports plan, the solutions to climate change will be a jobs and economic bonanza. If we continue our dependence on dirty fossil fuels – our trading partners will seize the opportunity and we’ll be left behind.

We don’t have a moment to waste. With immense horror and grief we witness the loss of life in Pakistan’s current flooding crisis – described by Pakistan climate change minister Sherry Rehman as a "climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions". The impacts of climate damage are becoming ever more devastating and frequent.

We have solutions, but we need to ramp them up – fast. Australia can make an enormous contribution to climate action globally and help end the burning of coal and gas here and around the world.

The opportunity to lead is within reach – let’s get on with it.

Kelly O’Shanassy

CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.