By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of high-profile CEOs on Thursday called on world leaders to agree to bring the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century in a global climate change deal to be finalized in Paris in December.
The leaders of B Team, a coalition about 12 CEOs and policymakers including Virgin [VA.UL] founder Richard Branson, Unilever chief Paul Polman and Tata International's [TATAI.UL] Ratan Tata, said a global net-zero emissions goal by 2050 will prompt businesses to embed new investments and clean energy research into their business strategies.
Branson told Reuters in an interview the lofty goal - one of the options for a long-term climate goal being considered for the Paris draft negotiating text - is "doable" with private sector help.
"The politicians in Paris need to know business is behind them taking the right decisions and they are not going to damage the world economically by taking these decisions," he said.
A November report by the U.N. Environment Programme said governments should phase out net carbon dioxide emissions by 2070 in order to meet a U.N. goal of limiting average temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above levels before the Industrial Revolution.
Net-zero emissions, or carbon neutrality, means that any carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels should be offset, for instance by planting forests that suck carbon from the air as they grow.
B Team leaders said governments should agree to meet the UNEP target 20 years earlier to stave off the business risks and economic costs of failing to keep within the 2-degree threshold needed to avoid dangerous climate change impacts.
The group also called on governments to set policies to price carbon pollution, end fossil-fuel subsidies and help poor and vulnerable communities adapt to climate change.
Branson said the recent fall in oil prices by more that 50 percent presents an opportunity for governments to make a radical shift away from fossil fuels.
"If people want to come up with clean ways of powering cars, of powering houses - don't tax them," he said.
But the target faces headwinds ahead of the Paris summit. While developing nations want the new pact to include the net-zero goal, OPEC oil producers, like Saudi Arabia, fiercely oppose any phase-out of fossil fuels.
(This version of the story corrects transposed words in paragraphs 2 and 7)
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)