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BHP and Rio Tinto among Australian heavy industry calling for urgent action on cutting emissions

BHP and Rio Tinto among Australian heavy industry calling for urgent action on cutting emissions

Some of Australia’s biggest heavy industrial companies – including BHP, Bluescope, Rio Tinto and Woodside – say urgent action is needed from government, investors and business for Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with its goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C.

A joint statement signed by 17 members of the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI) follows their support for a report in February that found they could cut direct emissions in their supply chains by more than 90% by 2050 without relying heavily on carbon offsets.

It lists several objectives necessary for heavy industry to reach net zero emissions at a pace consistent with limiting heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, including the construction of a “large-scale, cost-competitive, renewable energy system of the future” and the development of “integrated net zero emissions industrial regions”.

The signatory companies did not specify what limiting heating to 1.5C should mean for the country’s emissions reduction targets. Scientists have said it demanded an emissions cut of at least 57% and up to 75% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels – well beyond the Albanese government’s 43% target – and reaching net zero much earlier than 2050.

The statement – which was also supported by Westpac, Australian Super, Orica, Wesfarmers, Fortescue Metals and the Australian Industry Group – said the February report prepared by the Climateworks Centre and the CSIRO showed how decarbonisation of heavy industry could be achieved, but that it would require a “significant stretch in ambition”.

The companies said they were “ready to seize this opportunity” and called on others to join them. “We will encourage and support federal and state governments as they develop an economy-wide suite of policies,” they said.

But the goals of the ETI statement appear at odds with the plans of some of the companies that have backed it. Woodside wants to open several large gas and oil fields in Australia and overseas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month again reported that existing fossil fuel infrastructure across the globe was enough to push the world beyond 1.5C heating and towards the more dangerous climate change that would involve.

The chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, said 1.5C was an “enormous challenge”, but the IPCC had shown “the costs of failure would be very high and each fraction of a degree matters”. He said emissions caps on business would “certainly have to tighten and apply more broadly over time to make net zero happen in industry and energy”.

The government last week passed changes to one of its signature climate policies, the safeguard mechanism, with support from the Greens and independents. The revamp means many of the country’s major industrial sites will be required to reduce emissions intensity by 4.9% a year, either directly or by buying offsets.

Several manufacturing companies released statements on Monday praising the government for adjusting the safeguard in response to their concerns. The changes included reducing the rate at which some non-fossil fuel businesses would have to cut emissions intensity to just 1% a year, and lifting public support for manufacturing industries from $600m to $1bn.

In a statement to the stock exchange, BlueScope’s chief executive, Mark Vassella, said engagement with the government on the safeguard had been “constructive”, and the company could now focus on finishing a feasibility study for a $1bn blast furnace and other decarbonisation projects at its Port Kembla steelworks.

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Mark Irwin, the chief executive of cement and lime business Adbri, said he welcomed the government’s commitment of “additional funding to industries providing critical inputs to clean energy industries including cement and lime”.

Orica’s chief executive, Sanjeev Gandhi, said his company strongly supported the government’s reforms and they would lead to it rolling out emissions reduction technology at its manufacturing sites at Newcastle and Gladstone.

The statements highlighted the gap between major industry and business and the federal Coalition on climate policy. Coalition climate change spokesperson, Ted O’Brien, last week said the safeguard mechanism would “decapitate” the economy. The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, told the ABC on Sunday the policy could lead to the cement industry leaving the country and was causing issues for steel businesses.

On Monday, the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said the government’s reforms had delivered the “certainty needed to make major investments in decarbonisation, future-proofing thousands of jobs onshore”.

O’Brien said “big government and big business” had agreed on “a big new tax”, and Australian consumers would be forced to pay.

The safeguard mechanism is not a tax. It requires companies to take steps to reduce emissions, but does not involve the government collecting revenue.

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