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Broad coalition formed to seek common ground on tackling climate change

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said: ‘There is now overwhelming common ground on the need for a more certain and meaningful approach to emissions reduction’. AAP/Dean Lewins

Major business, union, research, environment, investor and social groups have formed the Australian Climate Roundtable in an effort to “put the climate policy debate on common ground and offer a way forward”.

The group’s formation comes just weeks before the Abbott government announces Australia’s emission reduction target for post-2020, in the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference in Paris later in the year. China is expected to announce its target imminently.

The organisations signing up to a set of joint principles are the Australian Aluminium Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Council of Social Service, the ACTU, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Energy Supply Association of Australia, the Investor Group on Climate Change, the Climate Institute and WWF Australia.

While there have been previous alliances in the climate debate, this is by far the most extensive and inclusive.

In its statement, the roundtable said that Australia’s major political parties supported the global community’s goal of limiting climate change to less than 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

“That important but challenging objective will require deep global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net emissions to zero or below.”

The broad coalition had come together “because climate change and climate policy both impact our missions and our members. We believe Australia should play its fair part in global efforts to avoid 2° centigrade and the serious economic, social and environmental impacts that unconstrained climate change would have on Australia.”

Avoiding unconstrained climate change would provide important benefits and opportunities to Australia, the roundtable said.

But “delayed, unpredictable and piecemeal action will increase the costs and challenges of achieving the goals and maximising the opportunities”.

“We found that groups with very different constituencies and missions have much in common,” on the issue, the statement said. Climate change had been a “tumultuous area of policy development on a major challenge for Australia”.

“We thought it important to reset the objectives, principles and key priorities to make the next phase of policy development as civil and constructive as possible.”

The agreed principles did not prescribe a single solution, the roundtable said. Rather, they set out common ground on which more detailed policy could be constructed.

They have been discussed with both major parties and the roundtable said it looked forward to “further constructive dialogue”.

The statement of principles says that policy should “be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximising benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve”.

The costs of climate policy should be spread fairly within the community, avoiding disproportionate impacts on vulnerable people.

“To attract and sustain investment over the long term, the underlying climate policy framework should be stable, offer predictable processes for important decisions and enjoy broad political support.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said that the “shared recognition that we need to maintain competitiveness while reducing emissions over time is a major advance and a solid platform for future policy stability”.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said: “There is now overwhelming common ground on the need for a more certain and meaningful approach to emissions reduction”.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie warned that the poor would be hardest hit by the negative impacts of climate change and the least able to adapt – the only way to develop stable and equitable policies was to work together.

Energy Supply Association CEO Matthew Warren said: “Effective and efficient measures to reduce emissions and meet the challenges of the 21st century will need to be delivered over a generation or longer. They require broad, common support and enduring policies”.

Climate Institute CEO John Connor said the shared position should “renew, revitalise and guide discussion” and “help build a resilient Australia prospering in a zero carbon global economy”.

At the Liberal federal council on Saturday a motion sceptical of climate change was headed off by shunting it to a committee.

Listen to the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler, here or on iTunes.

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