Our initiative

To collaborate with businesses and researchers across all fields of endeavour to build a prosperous low emissions future

The Net Zero Initiative (NZI) encompasses all the leading-edge research in the University of Sydney that is directed towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions. The strength of the NZI is the collaboration of research efforts across different disciplines, embracing participants from inside and outside of the University so that new ideas can be developed, tested and commercialised quickly and in line with the timetable that climate science says is needed if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

The opportunity

The International Energy Agency forecasts that the total annual investment in energy infrastructure will rise to $US5 trillion by 2030, adding an extra 0.4% point a year to annual global GDP growth. This highlights two important features of the transition to net zero emissions. First, the level of investment is massive, and this will be reflected in private and public funds directed towards R&D and in funds invested in the commercialisation and deployment of low emissions technologies. Secondly, the transition to a low emissions world will not create a cost burden but instead offer positive outcomes to society.

Therefore, transitioning to the net zero world requires research that will find the new low-cost low-emissions technologies. The investment community also required tools to better manage the risk associated in the deployment of the new technologies. The NZI is focused on both these areas of investigation.

While offsets from nature-based emissions abatement such a revegetation are seen as options to reduce emissions, the volume of abatement available through nature-based solutions is limited, offsetting about a decade of greenhouse gas emissions at current rates. Therefore, new approaches to carbon removal are needed to offset emissions that are hard or impossible to abate and eventually to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. For this reason, the NZI is also undertaking research into direct air capture of CO2.

Enabling research themes

The research collaboration of the Net Zero Initiative spans several of the University’s Faculties and Institutes, bringing together world-class researchers who are committed to solving the difficult challenges on the transition to a net zero future. Collaboration is central to the NZI’s mission, and our research teams work closely with our business partners and domestic and international research partners to deliver solutions. It has the critical mass, research expertise and multi-disciplinary focus required to attract large-scale competitive and industry funding.

Our research explores new science, emerging technologies and new processes and systems. We defined four pillars that maximise opportunities for collaboration and to best support our business partners.

Demand for education

Today’s students need access to the educational opportunities that will provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to address the challenges of climate change. Society also urgently needs a body of trained professionals to work within the sustainable development field itself and working for wider businesses as they transition to the net zero world. Universities must therefore provide climate education to all and embed education for sustainable development in everything that they do.

Our Net Zero Initiative provides a focal point for delivering this education and training at an ambitious scale, providing both deep technical skills and broader multidisciplinary understanding of the challenges of the transition to net zero emissions and the technologies that will realise the ambitious goal. We educate the current and future workforce, and we build strategic leadership capabilities and organisations to tackle this critical global challenge. We also work with young people to understand the impacts of climate anxiety and address the future mental health implications and infrastructure we’ll need to support them in a world with a changing climate.

Industry and government aligned

The Australian Government and all state and territory governments have committed to net zero emissions at or before 2050. Further, the Business Council of Australia supports achieving a net zero emissions economy by 2050, as do and many of Australia’s largest businesses. These businesses are beginning to commit large sums to achieve their net zero targets.

Only so much can be achieved through deployment of low-cost sources of renewable electricity and therefore governments and businesses are looking to address some of the harder to abate emissions sources through technologies such as electrification (which in turn requires new technology) and new industrial and agricultural processes. The Net Zero Initiative acknowledges this new imperative and is therefore developing new fuels such as green hydrogen, new industrial products such as low-emissions cement and new ways to manage agricultural land to increase soil carbon.

Our research