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FORMER prime minister Malcolm Fraser has urged the Federal Government not to let the financial crisis slow its response to climate change.
He warned that Australia lacked urgency in tackling environment problems.
In an interview with The Age, he called for an "overall and full-blooded plan" for the environment spanning several decades to be worked out by state and federal governments at Council of Australian Governments meetings.
His call came as he backed a new open letter by 40 Australian scientists demanding the that Government make "every effort" to cut greenhouse emissions and lead global negotiations to keep the temperature rise within 2 degrees, regardless of the health of the economy.
"As far as I'm concerned, a recession is inevitable, and I don't know how long it will go on," Mr Fraser said.
"I think the climate is too important to say we are going to wait until all our economic woes are over before we act effectively."
He compared acting on climate change to taking out insurance.
"Are you going to stop insuring your house against fire because of economic problems?" he asked.
Mr Fraser said the response to environment problems should go much further than just emissions trading. He said the country lacked good water policy.
â– An end to irrigation for rice and cotton farming, describing it as an "abomination" in Australian conditions.
â– The introduction in cities of water recycling, stormwater harvesting and dual plumbing, giving households separate access to potable and grey water.
â– Using desalination where necessary, but he described it as expensive and no substitute for proper use of the water we have.
â– Abolition of woodchipping in native forests, saying Australia had more than enough plantation timber to meet its needs.
Mr Fraser said he had always believed Australians would respond to a leader or government that set out a plan and backed investing in the future.
"I don't think any of the governments, state or federal, are trying to develop an overall long-term approach," he said.
"Melbourne is known as a garden city, or used to be. The way we are going it will be a city without gardens."
Mr Fraser was speaking after a second group of scientists in as many months released a letter calling for the Federal Government to take a hard line on climate change.
Led by Barrie Pittock, a lead author with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the new letter warns that the world is moving towards a climatic tipping point faster than predicted.
It calls for Australia to urgently cut greenhouse emissions, speed up clean energy and soak up carbon dioxide through planting trees and possibly soil enrichment.
It recommends for an emissions reduction target of 25-30% by 2020 and 60-80% by 2050.