Westacott strongly denies the BCA was facing a revolt over climate after IAG, QBE and Medibank resigned their membership and Telstra, Rio Tinto, BHP and Westpac announced reviews.
Lead the charge
The business group has also come under fire for its support of the use of Kyoto carryover credits to meet Paris targets but Westacott insists the ambitious but simple target is one everyone can get behind.
“This has got to be practical it cannot be ideological. I see climate as absolute economics. I think business has to lead on this because it has to be the one to deliver. Business is and has to and always will lead the charge on this.”
“Let’s all try and agree on the end destination, so we can work out the how, which perhaps matters even more,” Westacott says.
The potentially game-changing target builds on major companies including BHP, BlackRock and BP breaking away to lead the climate charge.
BCA CEO Jennifer Westacott, at the Australia-Canada forum, says we need to all get behind the 2050 target. Eamon Gallagher
BPs new CEO Bernard Looney this week vowed to cut the oil firms carbon footprint to net zero by 2050 including targets for it’s indirect emissions, raising the bar for oil and gas companies worldwide.
Business leaders also point to BlackRock chief Larry Fink’s plan to dump millions in thermal coal shares to prove the debate has moved on from a few climate activists making trouble at the AGM.
“Business is driving innovation even in the absence of a government-sponsored pricing mechanism,” former NSW premier Bob Carr tells AFR Weekend.
“Almost by the month, more business is responding. BlackRock has been part of that but any director of a public company must now see he or she is protected by insisting on a stringent climate policy.”
“What is striking is while national government is deadlocked, business has to anticipate the risk of stranded assets because the next climate event or one after that will force government to respond in a rapid or panicked way”.
Mike Cannon-Brookes says Steggall’s proposed legislation is “a smart bill, and the exact type of action we need to change Australias international reputation on climate.”
Policy rewrite
Woodside CEO Peter Coleman who like several companies has committed to a net zero emissions target for their own operations admits “we are not getting too far in front of the pack because we will learn as we go”.
“The BCA is rewriting its energy policy,” he tells AFR Weekend. “We will come out with a new energy policy in the next few months. You can expect that energy policy will be more contemporary in its views and will reflect the input from some new members of the BCA board including myself.”
CEO of AGL Brett Redman who has committed to getting out of coal fired power generation by 2050 if not the net zero target per se agrees there are enormous opportunities in the transition to renewables.
“I am an absolute believer that Australia will move in the future to be a global superpower with firmed renewable energy,” Redman tells AFR Weekend.
“It will take a long time, because this is about building infrastructure but AGL will be right in the middle of that as we’ve always done putting our money where our mouth is.”
Former CEO of Origin Energy Grant King also convinced his climate change panel at this week’s Australia-Canada forum which included the Australian chairman of Tesla Robyn Denholm to agree the 2050 target was reachable.
However, scientist Donald Sadoway said we wouldn’t reach it without nuclear being included in the mix. Westacott agrees nuclear should not be ruled out while adding mitigation technologies will be critical.
“We have to remember this is a net zero target,” Westacott says. “You’re still producing CO2 but you’ve got to work harder on the energy mix and offsets like carbon capture storage and carbon recycling.”
“You’ve got a legacy energy here, coal is still 65 per cent of all generation. If we are all going to land on the point of 2050 net zero, then what are the technologies and how do you accelerate them,” Westacott says.
“We have always said gas in the short-term is the obvious transition fuel.”
A black summer
The Steggall plan although unlikely to come to a vote in the House of Representatives anytime soon has the governments attention, not least because of the strong reaction from business leaders this week.
Energy and Emissions Minister Angus Taylor was already working on a plan for new long-term emissions reduction promises to take to November’s UN climate summit in Glasgow.
After a black summer of bushfires and extreme weather, and growing anger centred on political paralysis in Canberra and the Prime Ministers own ham-fisted response, the Coalition is weighing up whether to join more than 80 countries already on board with commitments to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The internal review of economic impacts from adopting the goal was already on track to be finished before the November summit. It comes amid growing proxy wars within the National Party and lingering dissatisfaction by moderate Liberal MPs, who believe more ambitious goals are needed in order to keep metropolitan voters.
The full extent of the toxicity at play might be summed up by the unwillingness of Taylor and Morrison to call any proposed new goals targets. Instead the government insists theyll be strategies. Tough new targets are a total non-starter for vocal right-wing Liberal and National MPs, tripping over themselves this week to stand up for coal.
Part of the subtle reposition under way can also be seen in the proposed terms-of-reference for the bushfires royal commission, which include consideration of whether the changing climate carries risks for the Australian environment.
The government also wont answer questions on the cost of not increasing Australias emission reductions amid concern voters in coal-heavy electorates will question their commitments so soon after Labors collapse in Queensland helped secure Morrisons shock election victory.
In Parliament, Steggalls private member’s bill can only come up for a vote with the governments sanction. There appears little prospect of that, despite crossbench support for the plan.
Supporters have pointed to the success of the Medevac bill enabling asylum seekers to be brought to the mainland for hospital treatment, passed in early 2019. It scraped through Parliament when Morrison lacked a majority a circumstance which is unlikely, though not impossible, post the election.
Coal rebellion
Labor faced its own rebellion on coal and climate this week, after revelations pro-coal opposition MPs are meeting to try and influence the party’s position under Anthony Albanese.
The so-called Otis Group, named for a swanky restaurant in Canberras Kingston dining district, includes about 20 MPs and as many as nine members of the shadow frontbench.
Albanese was angered the groups meetings became public this week, threatening new ill-discipline, days after deputy leader Richard Marles fumbled his explanation of Labors policy reset in an ABC interview.
The Labor leader called in resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon while Parliament was sitting. However, publicly Albanese played down the reports insisting there was nothing unusual about MPs going out to dinner in Canberra to chat about ideas.
Former Labor senator Doug Cameron was blunt. He said if the Otis revelations were true, MPs attending talks since late last year had misread the politics and were ignoring the science.
Given the names associated with this group Im not surprised, not the sharpest tools in the shed, he said.
There was a break out of optimism following Chief Scientist Alan Finkels speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Finkel backed Morrisons vision for a gas-filled energy market and transition to lower emissions, describing emerging hydrogen technology as the future hero for Australia.
Finkel warned “there is a limit to how much solar and wind we can use and still retain a reliable system but said Australia must continue to diversify its energy supplies as ageing coal-fired power plants come to the end of their working lives.