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A global climate change agreement is "urgent and essential", according to the final Climate Change Review released today by Professor Ross Garnaut, advisor to PM Kevin Rudd.
Despite some scientists' criticism of the target of 10 per cent of 2000 carbon dioxide levels by 2020 as too low, Garnaut has maintained that position.
However, Garnaut said that Australia should encourage an international agreement of the more ambitious target of 25 per cent by 2020. But he admits that this aim - based on a carbon dioxide concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm) - "would not be easy to reach."
The more realistic level 10 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020, or 80 per cent by 2050 (based on a carbon dioxide concentration of 550 ppm) would be more feasible, the report said.
With the current carbon dioxide concentration at 383 ppm, the CO2 level would rise beyond 550 ppm within this century, if nothing more is done.
Scientists agree that a doubling the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm would result in a 3C rise in global temperature.
Australia should still be prepared to act on baseline targets, even if an international agreement is not reached at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, Garnaut said. Which would mean, at a minimum, staying on course to reduce CO2 emissions by 5 percent by 2020, or 60 per cent by 2050.
But without international cooperation, Australia would bear a heavy financial burden by implementing an emissions trading system, the report said.
A global agreement would negate the political wrangling over exemptions and lower the cost to Australians. This is because a global agreement on a carbon trading scheme would give businesses more trading potential - as the market would be larger - thereby reducing the costs that would be passed on to consumers.
The reports recommends that "at least half the proceeds from the sale of all permits could be allocated to households," and that 'green credits' be introduced to invest in energy efficiency initiatives.
"Professor Garnaut admits that we are faced with one of the most serious and urgent global problems ever and that Australia will suffer more from climate change than many other industrialised countries. He confesses that we are locked in a prisonersâ€™ dilemma: if we wait for all the others to act first, we all lose," said Mark Diesendorf, deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW.
"By setting strong targets, Australia can join several European countries and States of the USA, thus contributing to the global pressures on the US Federal Government and the incoming president and hence on China and India to join global action to cut emissions."