29 Oct 2021


By Dermot O’Gorman, WWF-Australia CEO

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 29 October 2021

We’re living through a period of enormous disruption. Our climate is changing, industries are shifting, technology is moving at break-neck speed and now a pandemic has reached into the lives of all eight billion of us.

The World Economic Forum says we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This has been defined as a “new chapter in human development” where advances in technology, from artificial intelligence to genetically modified organisms, will change the way we live, work, and relate to one another. It will be a period of “huge promise and potential peril”.

The scope of this transformation requires a rethink of how Australia engages with the world. How will we succeed? Will we stay on the path that took us through the 20th century – a smaller middle power, dependent on alliances with the US and UK, and on fossil fuels for our export earnings – or is there another road?

The good news is there are abundant opportunities in front of us. To seize them, we must harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to deliver on global Sustainable Development Goals and move towards a truly regenerative economy. Australia can lead the way in delivering the world’s First Regenerative Revolution.

This means focusing on development that is equitable and self-sustaining for communities and within the capacity of our planet to regenerate. We also need to support and learn from our First Nations communities, who have been working with nature to build ecological resilience for tens of thousands of years. We must use the pandemic as an opportunity to reset and redesign Australia for the future.

The signs of a Regenerative Revolution are already visible in our major trading partners. New technologies, like nanotechnology and biotechnology, are being introduced into old-style manufacturing practices in innovative ways that mean development and regeneration can go hand-in-hand. As a nation, there are three specific opportunities we can seize now.

The first is our potential to become a superpower exporter of renewable energy and zero carbon products. With the world firmly on the path of decarbonising, the next decade will see a declining demand for fossil fuels and a rapid growth in markets for renewable energy and zero carbon products like green steel and aluminium. Australia could – and should – aim to produce and export seven times the amount of electricity we consume.

Reaching 700 per cent renewables by 2050 would enable us to meet our entire domestic demand, including switching all transport and industry to renewables, plus produce renewable hydrogen fuels for export; send renewable power to Asia via sea cables; and manufacture zero carbon products like green steel and ammonia.

This will be lucrative as well as good for the planet. WWF-Australia has released a report with ACF, ACTU and BCA that shows investment in clean energy exports could generate 395,000 new jobs and $89 billion in new trade by 2040. Research from Beyond Zero Emissions shows green export industries could be worth $333 billion per annum to Australia by 2050 – triple the value of our existing fossil fuel exports. We already have leaders in the field, like Sun Cable’s network of solar infrastructure and Fortescue Future Industries’ green hydrogen, but we need to forge ahead with speed and ambition. We have less than a decade to reinvent ourselves as a global provider of clean energy that dwarfs today’s fossil fuel exports.

The second opportunity lies in the transition to sustainable production and a circular economy. We’ve already demonstrated our ability to make rapid progress on eliminating single-use plastics, so becoming a zero waste economy – where technology and innovation are harnessed to ensure everything is recycled, repurposed or shared – is not beyond our reach. The Aussie start-up Great Wrap is already making compostable stretch wrap from food waste in solar powered factories across Victoria.

Australia should aspire to become a truly nature-positive economy, where natural capital is conserved and restored in every industry. This would deliver huge benefits to our environment, add value to our exports and further enhance ‘Brand Australia’. With global markets demanding transparency in supply chains and proof that products are produced sustainably, Australian farmers and manufacturers can confidently sell into this growing green market.

The third opportunity lies in supporting government, businesses, and civil society to develop the new skills, training and thinking required for this Regenerative Revolution. Aligning profit with social purpose will be key. Australia is already the third largest provider of international education in the world. This is a role we must continue to pursue. We need to upskill today’s workers and ensure young people have the skills for the workforce of the future.

Now is the time for Australia to become a sustainability superpower. This Regenerative Revolution is not about sacrificing our way of life. For too long we have framed sustainability and climate action as a trade-off with our economy and our standard of living. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is time to embrace the technology, leadership and policy that can deliver a regenerative and prosperous economy. With the right actions, we can shift from being a leading exporter of climate pollution to a world-class exporter of climate solutions, sustainable goods, and regenerative know-how.