- Report urges council to harvest wind in the CBD
- Adam Morton It's a matter of emphasis
- Tony Wright Professor makes sense of another meltdown
- Parched city records barely a drop
- Look to clean cars, public transport
- We'll skip the kangaroo suggestion, farmers say
- No short-term disaster for coal-fired plants: report
- Climate change in Australia
CLIMATE change adviser Ross Garnaut has used his final report to outline a radical vision of a low-carbon Australia, with big changes in agriculture, transport and energy by mid-century.
He stressed that the Government should agree to cut greenhouse emissions by 25% by 2020 as part of a strong global deal - winning plaudits from some environment groups - but warned that a less ambitious target was more realistic.
He warned that failure to achieve a binding global agreement would haunt humanity until the end of time.
The professor's 672-page final report predicted that rural Australia would be transformed by emissions trading.
Farmers on marginal land would be paid more to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and grow biofuels than they could get from growing sheep and wheat. "On an Australia-wide scale this could be very large," Professor Garnaut told The Age. "It could transform the mitigation costs for Australia."
He nominated marginal wheat country in the Victorian Mallee as one area in which farmers might be better off growing mulga scrub under emissions trading.
"If the owners of that land deliberately ran it to restore vegetation at a carbon price of around $20 a tonne, there would be a lot more revenue in conservation than in sheep or cattle."
On energy, Professor Garnaut has recommended that the Government spend $2.7 billion a year to develop clean energy.
But he concluded that most coal-fired power stations would still be viable in 2020.
"The modelling shows that there will be a substantial role for the coal-powered generators for a number of years," he said. "We're not looking at an imminent retirement." On transport, he predicted that electric cars would have started to dominate by mid-century, with greater use of rail and other public transport.
To move towards such a world, he has told the Government it should be prepared to cut greenhouse emissions by 25% by 2020 and by 90% by 2050.
The professor said such cuts would be both affordable and achievable, and the cost to the economy would be minor compared with that experienced in two world wars.
But he warned that the rest of the world was not yet ready to adopt the measures to reach such a target, which would hold carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million. "It's quite possible for heads of government at Copenhagen to all announce we've agreed on 450, and for nothing to happen," he said.
He said a 550ppm target may prove to be the best way to get to more ambitious reductions in the future. A 550ppm target would involve a 10% cut to Australian emissions by 2020, a target condemned by environmentalists as inadequate.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said economic responsibility would shape the Government's response. It would consider economic modelling due from the Treasury next month before committing to a target.
Mainstream environment groups embraced the finding that the 450ppm target was achievable.
"This is a clear message that the target range in the December White Paper should include the 25% by 2020 reduction target," the Climate Institute's John Connor said.
But business remained cautious. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Greg Evans said the introduction of emissions trading needed to be very measured.
Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb said the uncertainty over whether Australia should be aiming at cuts of 5%, 10% or 25% by 2020 demonstrated why it was unwise for the Government to introduce emissions trading in 2010.
"The Rudd Government's indecent haste is already causing serious design flaws," Mr Robb said.
Greens leader Bob Brown said the report showed the cost to households of ambitious emissions cuts were negligible, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should adopt the 450ppm target.
Professor Garnaut said consumers would wear the majority of costs from emissions trading, and at least half the revenue generated by emission trading should go to compensate lower-income households.
Introducing emissions trading would be less inflationary than introducing the GST, adding about 1% to CPI.