CANBERRA, AAP – Senior ministers are following Scott Morrison’s lead in firming up their language around climate change targets.

The prime minister has expressed a preference to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier.

It is the first time Mr Morrison has nominated the timetable so explicitly, but there is still no firm commitment to reach the climate target.

Most major economies including the United States have committed to the 2050 deadline.

“When I know how we can get there, then I can tell Australia when we’re going to get there,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“Because if you don’t get there by technology, you get there by taxes, and I will not make Australians pay higher taxes to get to net zero.”

Simon Birmingham, the leader of the government in the Senate, defended the coalition’s approach.

“The prime minister has made clear the goal of the government is absolutely to see net zero achieved by 2050 or early if possible,” he told the ABC.

“But what the prime minister is also making clear is that we, and the world, need to focus on how we are actually going to achieve it. Goals and ambitions are one thing, getting them done is a different thing.”

Senator Birmingham downplayed the power and influence of coalition colleagues, including Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly, who don’t agree with the 2050 deadline and are pushing for more investment in coal.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan downplayed the significance of the prime minister’s comments.

Senator Canavan said Australia’s biggest focus should be on boosting manufacturing and driving down power prices.

“If we go down single-mindedly on just trying to shut things down in a futile effort to cool the planet we’re going to make that other problem a lot worse,” he said.

The Queenslander is leading a backbench charge within the Nationals to advance coal-fired power stations to underpin a manufacturing resurgence.

“There’s way too much focus in this country on what might and might not happen in 30 years time rather than dealing with the challenges we face right now,” he said.

“When I think about what the biggest challenge for my kids is going to be in their generation, I think it’s the rising aggression of the Chinese Communist Party in our region not carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Senator Canavan described scores of countries signing up to the 2050 as a pantomime, given many had failed to meet Kyoto emissions reduction goals.

“It’s an inevitability that we’ll continue to see countries – hopefully not Australia – make bold visionary statements about what they’re going to do in the decades to come and then do absolutely nothing to achieve them.”