At the annual general meeting last week, BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers said he would not cover the “key design features we advocate” in detail.
But in a similar vein to what took place when the big three mining companies struck a deal with the federal government over the Minerals Resource Rent Tax proposal, he revealed “policy principles”
“A clear price signal will be necessary to reduce consumption and reduce emissions,” he said.
“Governments must operate carbon reduction programs on a revenue neutral basis, lest the carbon price just becomes another tax.
“Therefore, the revenues raised must be returned to individuals and businesses; and emissions costs for trade-exposed products must be rebated, given that it will take time until a global system is in place.”
Kloppers stressed there were no simple answers to the carbon emissions issue and a solution requires a combination of initiatives.
His climate-fearing colleague, BHP chairman Jac Nasser, provided some insight into why the company is championing a carbon tax.
“One of the great benefits of our diversified portfolio is that we face lower strategic risk from issues like climate change which may disrupt the status quo,” he said at the AGM.
“While coal and oil for example, have potential downside risk in a shift to a lower carbon economy, uranium and gas have upside potential.”
BHP is a major coking coal exporter and Australia’s leading oil producer, but the company expects future technology innovations to play a helping hand.
Yet Nasser raised doubts on the benefits of carbon capture and storage.
“With 44 per cent of the world’s electricity demands in 2030 still expected to be met by coal, reducing these emissions is a pressing issue for us all.
“I should say, however, that it is not yet clear that carbon capture and storage will be a cost-effective way to deal with coal emissions and it is unlikely to be available in the near future.
“Therefore, while we are pleased with the continuing contribution of our coal business, the board and management are paying close attention to the developments in technology, government policy and market responses around the world.
“On balance, however, we remain optimistic that the emergence of innovative technologies will play a significant role in the overall long term energy solution.”
While there are valid scientific doubts about whether carbon emissions contribute to potential global warming, the strong result of the Greens party in the recent federal election indicates that climate change is an increasingly political issue.