Australian Climate Roundtable statement: Australian working together for a successful transition to net zero emissions

08 November 2021

Limiting climate change to well below 2 degree C temperature rise and ideally 1.5 degrees C as targeted in the Paris Agreement is much more than just possible, it is vital for future Australian and global economic, social, and environmental prosperity. Achieving that goal requires multiple significant transitions across our economy and society. We know with such large-scale transition there will be challenges and risks, but if designed well, the transition can provide important benefits and opportunities. It will not succeed if people experiencing disadvantage, workers and communities are left behind or fear they will be. The journey to net zero emissions by 2050 will require combining the perspectives, expertise and experience found across many different sectors and constituencies.

That is why the Australian Climate Roundtable’s members have been working together for more than a year to build our shared understanding of a successful economy-wide transition to net zero emissions by 2050. As a collaboration among leading organisations representing business and industry, farming, investment, union, social welfare and environmental sectors, the ACR has held joint workshops that brought our members together with invited experts from many parts of Australia and around the world to describe what successful transition to net zero could look like for different sectors of the economy and segments of the community.

These followed a similar workshop series in 2019-20 examining the wide-ranging costs and impacts of climate change itself, on the basis of which we concluded:

“The scale of costs and breadth of the impact of climate change for people in Australia is deeply concerning and will escalate over time. It is in Australia’s national interest that we do all we can to contribute to successful global action to minimise further temperature rises and take action to manage the changes we can’t avoid

We learned a lot in this current series of workshops. The results include the following recommendations for policy makers:

Recommendations for Ambition

The ACR acknowledges the Australian Government’s firm commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 as a first step. This will help guide public policy and private activity, and is consistent with our previous recommendations.

Raising Australia’s medium-term emissions mitigation goals, and updating them regularly, is also necessary to:

  • provide a clear and credible basis for action and investment;
  • maintain our competitiveness amidst a growing global transition; and
  • meet our Paris Agreement commitment to ensure our successive Nationally Determined Contributions reflect our highest possible ambition, and represent our fair share in limiting costly and dangerous climate change.

Recommendations for Action

The ACR welcomes the increased resources and activity Australian governments are devoting to addressing climate change. Further enhanced and expanded policy approaches are needed to drive a successful economy-wide transition to net zero emissions, and ensure people experiencing disadvantage, workers and communities are not left behind and ideally benefit

The ACR’s principles for climate policy should guide policy design.

Innovation remains critical to identify low, zero and negative emissions options, improve their capability and reduce their costs. Support for basic and applied research, demonstration and commercialisation is important. Deep reductions in cost will be driven by the large-scale deployment in Australia and around the world. Policies to support deployment of the most promising technologies are needed that:

  • collectively address all economic sectors and regions;
  • are large enough to drive meaningful change consistent with medium and long term goals;
  • provide a sound basis for private investment;
  • support the growth of demand for low, zero and negative emissions products; and
  • support broad access and opportunity

Policy should prevent the unnecessary loss of competitiveness by Australia’s trade exposed industries and net increases in global emissions that might otherwise occur due to the uneven international application of climate policies. But deferring change will not resolve these fears and may worsen trade risks, given the impacts of other nations’ climate transition choices on Australia’s export industries.

Successful transition for workers, communities and people experiencing disadvantage will require more than new technology and market uptake. Earning community confidence requires proactive and well-coordinated policies and investment to manage change and seize opportunities. Actions that can reduce emissions and improve social, health, employment outcomes for people and communities most affected and those experiencing disadvantage, should be identified and prioritised. Public authorities with a broad mandate and funds to manage transition impacts and facilitate diversification should be established in advance of expected major regional transitions.

Recommendations for Process

The further development of Australia’s climate strategies, and the policies under them, should be iterative, integrated and inclusive:

  • Iterative, with regular updates to ensure they remain relevant given the rapid pace of technological, market, social and global developments;
  • Integrated, taking coherent account of the needs and interconnections of the diverse economic sectors, policy portfolios, geographic regions, social demographics and arms of policy involved. Approaches that are narrow or siloed will not succeed.
  • Inclusive, developed in full dialogue with all parts of the community and ensuring local context analysis to understand existing capabilities and competitive advantages in specific regions. Closed processes focussed on Parliamentarians will be much less robust and effective than open processes that draw on the breadth of experience, expertise and perspective stakeholders have to offer.

Working together has helped our diverse organisations and our respective members better understand the critical importance and breadth of the transitions that we are embarking on. We are confident that Australians can make this journey together and build our shared prosperity. We will continue to collaborate to this end as Australia moves to implement, and further strengthen, the commitments taken to Glasgow this year.


Quotes by Individual Organisations 

“A range of familiar, improved and emerging technologies can support industry’s journey to net zero emissions. If business and government can match ambition with investable policy frameworks for the large-scale deployment of capital, Australian industry has bright prospects in a decarbonising world.”

Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Ai Group

“Cutting emissions in the next decade matters when it comes to climate change. Our government can either take climate action now and cement Australia as a global clean energy superpower or stay in the slow lane and risk everything. We cannot afford to delay any longer.”

Kelly O’Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Conservation Foundation 

“Australia needs a fast, fair and inclusive plan to ensure people on the lowest incomes, impacted workers and communities are supported and benefit from the transition to a clean energy future. Technology and markets alone are not enough. We have an opportunity to tackle climate change and reduce poverty and inequality at the same time, it’s both socially and economically the right approach.”

Cassandra Goldie, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Council of Social Service 

“Clean energy and secure jobs are winnable for Australia if we get the transition to a net zero emissions economy right. That will take ambition, planning, and collaboration, but above all, making sure the voices of workers and communities are front and centre.”

Michele O'Neil, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions 

“An economy-wide net zero target for 2050 is an important milestone for Australia and should be the catalyst for the broad decarbonisation effort required. Importantly, we can now all focus on the best ways to make the transition, along with the right policies and mechanisms.“

Sarah McNamara, Chief Executive, Australian Energy Council

 “Ambitious action to reduce emissions isn’t just critical for the environment, it is our path to a stronger and more competitive economy that delivers more jobs in our regions and cities. With coordination of action and certainty, we can achieve a net zero emissions economy in a way that harnesses Australia’s abundant natural resources to boost our exports, drive investment in new technologies and secure our economic future.”

Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive Officer, Business Council of Australia 

 “The global net zero transition that is underway is a huge opportunity to create jobs and boost prosperity for the countries that act.  Australia needs to match major trading partners in raising ambition on its 2030 emissions reduction target and supporting policies to attract investment into our economy and industries. A combination of climate action and social inclusion, which creates decent and quality jobs, net zero emissions and thriving communities, should be a priority for the Federal Government, investors and all stakeholders.”

Rebecca Mikula Wright, Chief Executive Officer, Investor Group on Climate Change

 “Australian agriculture continues to transition to a lower emission economy. Key sectors, with government, continue to invest in innovation and practice change to ensure that any transition for agriculture is devoid of regulatory limitations, is economically sensible and continues to drive increased productivity.”

Warwick Ragg General Manager NRM, National Farmers Federation

 “Australia faces some of the most extreme climate risks, but also the greatest opportunity. Seizing the full scope of opportunities in front of us will require an unprecedented scale of action and leadership from the Federal Government. Australia is uniquely placed to thrive in the global net-zero economy, but we need investments and policies to match the scale of our ambition and potential.”

Dermot O’Gorman, Chief Executive Officer, World Wildlife Fund Australia



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