Scientists plead with PM to go tough on carbon

Climate change

Australian PM, Kevin Rudd

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On the eve of economist Ross Garnaut's final Climate Change Review Report, Australia's leading climate change scientists have spoken out.

A group of 16 scientists have urged Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to override Garnaut, his top adviser, on the issue and drastically slash carbon dioxide emissions.

Garnaut, commissioned by the government to review Australia's response to the global problem of climate change, has recommended a 10 percent drop from 1990 levels by 2020.

But the scientists, including Roger Jones, coordinating lead author of a United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said emissions must decrease by at least 25 percent.

Garnaut is due to deliver his final report to the government on Tuesday morning.

Especially vulnerable

In an open letter to Rudd, the scientists said that unless the rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was halted soon, many millions of people would be at risk of heatwaves, drought, fire and floods.

As the world's driest inhabited continent, Australia was especially vulnerable to these changes, they said.

"Failure of the world to act now will leave Australians with a legacy of economic, environmental, social and health costs that will dwarf the scale of national investment required to address this fundamental problem," they said.

"Other nations have taken action and have committed to further action. We urge you to act decisively to maintain global momentum and to protect Australia's future."

One of the signatories to the letter, Professor Tony McMichael from the Australian National University, said unless Australia made cuts of at least 25 percent by 2020, it risked moving into dangerous climate change.

"We really must adopt bold and far-sighted targets to cut emissions as soon as possible," he told the ABC.

"We mustn't go soft on this one or we are all going to be in trouble, nationally and globally."

Rudd, who moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on combating global warming as his first official act after being elected in November, said the government would act in an economically responsible way.

"Our long-term economic interests require us to act on climate change and we need to also ensure that our long-term environmental interests are served by acting on climate change," he told reporters.

"So we intend to get that balance right."

Bottom line more important

His comments come as a new survey revealed that Australians want action on climate change, but not if it places their jobs or income at risk.

The 2008 Lowy Institute Poll of 1,001 Australians found that 21 percent were not prepared to pay any more on their electricity bill to reduce emissions, while 32 percent said they would only want to pay $10 extra a month.

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