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Q&A recap: business council calls for legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 | Australia news


Australia should legislate a target of net zero emissions by 2050, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia has said.

Appearing on Monday night’s Q&A panel, Jennifer Westacott told the audience “we have to do net zero by 2050”.

Asked if that meant Australia should follow other parliaments such as the United Kingdom and legislate for net zero she said, “I think that would be a start.”

“I reckon if we could get the two political parties to agree to that and legislate it, we would have made a massive advance in this country because we would know where we’re going,” Westacott said.

“For business that does want to take action in this space, that would at least give us a kind of certainty about where are we heading.”

Monday’s panel featured no politicians and was focused on how Australia should transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Audience members who asked questions included coalminers from areas including Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Westacott’s comments come as the independent MP Zali Steggall and crossbench MPs push for bipartisan support for a climate change framework bill aimed at helping the transition to a decarbonised economy.

It includes a proposal for a net zero emissions target by 2050, a carbon emissions budget, and assessments every five years of national climate change risk.

Zeggall is calling for government MPs to be given a conscience vote on the bill, which would only succeed if this was granted.

The bill will be introduced as a private member’s bill next month. Westacott told Monday night’s panel what Zeggall had proposed was “sensible”.

“Make no mistake – and she acknowledges this – the how really matters. We have to get the how right because we’ve got to create those new jobs,” she said.

The BCA, which represents Australia’s largest companies, is also saying Australia, if possible, should meet its 2030 emissions targets without relying on carryover credits from the Kyoto period.

And it repeated its call for the reintroduction of a carbon price to “drive the transition and incentivise investment in low and no-emissions technology”.

It is included in a scoping paper seeking views from members, which include Australia’s major banks and mining companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto, as the group reviews and updates its energy and climate policies.

The scoping paper says delivering net zero emissions at the lowest economic and social cost will require emissions cuts across all parts of the economy, including not just electricity, but also industrial processes, mining, transport and agriculture.

The statement that Australia should effectively stop releasing carbon pollution within three decades comes as debate over climate action is escalating inside the Morrison government.

Moderate Liberals declared on Monday the government should not underwrite a new coal-fired power station, and the trade minister, Simon Birmingham, acknowledged that, by signing the Paris agreement, the Coalition had already agreed to a long-term goal of global net zero emissions.

It followed the Coalition announcing a $4m feasibility study into a proposed coal-fired power plant at Collinsville, in north Queensland.

Last year the business council joined other groups in representing industry, unions, farmers and investors under the Australian Climate Roundtable banner in calling for policies that could put it on a path to net zero emissions.

The group has previously been accused of standing in the way of serious proposals to address climate change. In 2018, it described Labor’s promised 2030 target of a 45% cut in emissions below 2005 levels as “economy wrecking”.

The paper says the business council has supported strong action for “over a decade”. It says it supports the Paris agreement, a transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, a market-based carbon price and using technology to drive the change and create jobs and industries that “maintain Australia’s competitiveness”.

On the government’s plan to use credits from the Kyoto protocol to meet its target under the Paris agreement, the business council said: “If we can meet our emissions reduction targets without carryover credits then we should.”

On Monday night, Westacott said a net zero target had been the BCA’s policy for “a long time” but repeatedly stressed that how Australia got there was what mattered.

“The how really matters,” she said. “It matters for regions and we have a responsibility to step out how that will actually occur.

“Because just saying stuff and then not being able to show how we’re going to do it over what period of time and what cost and what technology and policy settings, what incentives, that will be another set of empty words that Australians will become cynical about.”

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