AUSTRALIA's leading climate scientists have written an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urging him to make deep cuts to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and to back a tough global agreement to avoid dangerous climate change.
The 16 scientists — who worked with the UN's peak scientific body on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — warn Mr Rudd "there is no time to lose", and call on him to slash Australia's emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.
The intervention of the scientists comes on the eve of the final report by the Government's climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, and presents a challenge to one of his key findings.
Earlier this month, Professor Garnaut advised the Prime Minister to make a slower start to cutting emissions, recommending Australia reduce its greenhouse gases by 10% by 2020.
In their letter sent to Mr Rudd on Friday, the climate scientists argued against the slow start, saying an Australian target of cutting 25% by 2020 would be "an equitable contribution" to the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change.
"As a group of Australia's leading climate change scientists, we urge you to adopt this target as a minimum requirement for Australia's contribution to an effective global climate agreement," the letter states.
"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".
The scientists who signed the letter are Australia's world-recognised experts on climate change, including Dr John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise who recently stepped down as chairman of the joint scientific committee of the World Climate Research Program. Dr Church is also a senior CSIRO researcher, but he and other CSIRO scientists signed the letter as individuals.
Also among the signatories are Dr Roger Jones, from CSIRO, who is currently advising the federal Treasury and Professor Garnaut's climate change review; Professors Nathan Bindoff and David Karoly, who worked on the most recent IPCC reports; Professor Tony McMichael from the Australian National University, who advised the IPCC on the human health impacts of climate change; Professor Matthew England, joint director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales; and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, an expert on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.
The letter poses a major dilemma for Mr Rudd and his Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, who is due to attend a critical round of UN climate talks in December.
Meanwhile, Reverend Tim Costello has made a late appeal to Professor Garnaut, urging him to rethink his greenhouse recommendations before handing his final report to Mr Rudd tomorrow.
In a letter seen by The Age,the World Vision chief says Professor Garnaut's proposal that Australia accept an initial global climate change deal that stabilises atmospheric carbon dioxide at 550 parts per million was a "strategic mistake" and "at odds with Australia's best interests".