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National party ministers pour cold water on Australia’s push for net zero emissions by 2050 | Australia news

Senior National party ministers have poured cold water on the growing push for Australia to adopt a concrete commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, cautioning against “platitudes” and arguing the coal sector is not in decline.

While Scott Morrison has attempted to perform a rhetorical pivot – expressing a preference for achieving net zero by 2050 or even sooner – the prime minister is yet to make a firm commitment to the goal that has been adopted by many of Australia’s trading partners.

The agriculture minister and deputy leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, deployed a different emphasis in his language on Wednesday, saying Australians were “sick of platitudes and politicians talking about big aspirations but no way of getting there”.

The resources minister, Keith Pitt, also said the resources sector was “a cornerstone of our economy” and cited figures that coalmining job numbers had hit a nine-year high.

“Now that does not sound like a sector in decline,” Pitt told parliament on Wednesday in response to a government-arranged question about the coal sector.

“That sounds to me like the resources sector is increasing not decreasing. Jobs are going up not going down.”

The ministers made the comments a day after the Nationals in the Senate issued a joint statement declaring that Australia needed to build “modern coal-fired power stations” to generate affordable, reliable energy.

The remarks indicate that Morrison would face internal pressure, particularly from Nationals, if he were to contemplate a formal commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 – a move that would have the backing of numerous Liberal MPs especially in urban areas.

The prime minister had used a scene-setting speech at the National Press Club on Monday to declare he wanted Australia to get to net zero emissions “as soon as possible” and “preferably by 2050” – Morrison’s strongest formulation to date.

Littleproud declined to say on Wednesday whether he would support or oppose Morrison making a concrete commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, but said the government would not do so until it had “the facts”.

“We’ve got a commitment to finding them [the facts],” Littleproud told reporters at a doorstop interview in Canberra.

He said the Paris agreement committed Australia to reach net zero emissions “some time in the second half of the century”, and he would consider accelerating that pledge only if “we can make sure that the economy isn’t hurt and we can transition”.

“The government’s position is that we will make a commitment once we understand how we get there and who pays for it,” he said.

While the Paris agreement – adopted in 2015 – talked about achieving net zero in the second half of the 21st century, it also called for emissions to be cut “in accordance with best available science”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change subsequently reported that global CO2 emissions would need to reach net zero by around 2050 in order to limit global heating to 1.5C.

Although Joe Biden has committed to setting the US on an unstopped course to net zero emissions by 2050, and to rally global support for increased action on the climate criss, Littleproud contended that America was not in a position to lecture Australia.

He said the Biden administration, like the Morrison government, was committed to a technology-based approach to emissions reduction – but he noted the US under Donald Trump had pulled out of the Paris agreement.

“Some nations around the world got out of it and are now re-signing it,” Littleproud said.

“We never turned our back on the Paris agreement, and we are saying that we will reach that and in fact beat it. The US is catching up to us on that.”

Australia should avoid “self-loathing” over its climate record to date, Littleproud said.

The minister was asked by a reporter whether he was concerned about the possibility of carbon border adjustment charges affecting Australian agricultural exporters, given it was an idea both the European Union and the US were considering.

Littleproud said he had spoken with the EU’s agriculture commissioner on Tuesday evening and had “made clear … it wouldn’t be appropriate to have a one-size-fits-all approach to the environment”.

But when approached by Guardian Australia for further details on the call, Littleproud clarified that the focus of the discussion with the EU counterpart was “sustainable agriculture production” and that the EU’s carbon border adjustment charge plans were not discussed.

The wrangling over climate policy came amid reports that the New South Wales deputy premier, John Barilaro, was considering a run for the Senate. Nine News reported that Barilaro – who has previously clashed with the federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack – was weighing up a potential run for the upper house.

Barilaro’s spokesperson initially responded to the report by saying the deputy premier had “always maintained that he will make a decision around his future in March”.

But the spokesperson later added: “There’s no truth to the rumours that he’s running for the Senate.”

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