An alliance of Australia’s leading industry groups has called on governments to commit to reaching zero net emissions by 2050, warning that without a “coherent national response to climate change the future prosperity of the nation will be at risk”.

The Australian Climate Roundtable, whose members represent the main business lobby groups including the BCA and the AIG, the energy peak body, investors, environmental groups, and community sector groups, have issued the fresh call on the federal government to lift its ambition on climate action ahead of the next round of international climate negotiations.

The Morrison government has adopted a 26 per cent reduction target by 2030, but has refused to adopt any future targets, instead deciding to pursue a ‘technology investment target’, that requires no specific cut to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The roundtable has issued a series of recommendations to the federal government following series of workshops throughout the first half of 2020, including consultation with the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, the Reserve Bank of Australia and several research institutions.

The recommendations included calls for the federal government to strengthen requirements for the disclosure of the financial risks posed by climate change, to support private sector investment in resilience measures, to integrate climate change resilience measures into Covid-19 economic responses and to undertake a systematic risk assessment of the threat posed by climate change to Australia as a whole.

The roundtable also recommended that climate change policies, both for mitigation and resilience measures, should become a ‘standing item’ for discussion by the National Cabinet.

“Without a coherent national response to climate change the future prosperity of the nation will be at risk. We run the risk that investment will flow to other economies with clearer targets and transition roadmaps. We need both a transition to net-zero emissions and to build resilience to those impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided,” the Australian Climate Roundtable’s position said.

“The Australian Climate Roundtable has previously recognised Australia’s national interest in holding the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C, or at most to well below 2°C, above pre-industrial levels. Australia must play our fair part in international efforts to achieve this and can do so while maintaining and increasing our prosperity.”

“To this end, and in addition to the resilience measures outlined above, the Australian Climate Roundtable encourages the Commonwealth Government to guide its policies by adopting a long-term objective of net-zero emissions by 2050 for the Australian economy as a whole, and of increased social equity and global competitive advantage for Australia in a net-zero world.”

The Australian Industry Group, which sits on the roundtable and which represents a large portion of the Australian business community, said that it was becoming clear that climate change was becoming a growing risk to Australian business, and that governments must work to mitigate the potential impacts.

“The starting point for climate debate is not policies or targets, important as they are, but climate impacts. What do we have to endure? And what are we trying to avoid? The evidence is deeply concerning. Huge climate costs face Australian businesses and the communities, infrastructure and workers which they sustain and rely on,” Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said.

“The urgency of that risk should drive all Australian governments to lift our game on adaptation and put net zero emissions by 2050 at the heart of their plans for prosperity.”

The Australian Climate Roundtable includes the Business Council of Australia, which has been a late convert to strong climate action, having opposed stronger climate policies, and labelled the Labor party’s climate policy ahead of the 2019 federal election as ‘economy wrecking’. But it has joined the call for stronger climate resilience measures.

“Putting Australia on the path to net zero emissions by 2050 can be an opportunity to drive billions of dollars of new investment, create new jobs, create new industries, boost our resilience and build the stronger regions we’ll need to supercharge our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott said.

Notably, signatories to the statement include the comparatively conservative National Farmers Federation. Just last week, the farming group announced its support for a zero net emissions target, placing pressure on the Liberal-National coalition to likewise embrace the target.

“The strengthening of the NFF’s climate change policy is a strong reminder of the role farmers can play in tackling emissions. Australia’s farm sector continues to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” CEO of the National Farmers Federation Tony Mahar said.

Australian Climate Roundtable also includes the Australian Energy Council, which also recently announced its own commitment to the zero net emissions target, but not without attracting the ire of some of its own members who are heavily invested in coal generation.

The roundtable said that it would hold a second series of workshops to cooperate on the development of a plan to successfully achieve the transition to net zero emissions, including as part of their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As we reconstruct our economy after the pandemic we have an opportunity to build a stronger, fairer economic framework that includes a credible and coherent plan on climate change and energy. In rebuilding our economy from the COVID crisis it is critical that job creation efforts also reduce emissions and keep Australians safe from the devastating impacts of bushfires and climate change,” president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Michele O’Neil, said.

Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.

1 September.

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