Australia should reduce emissions by 19 per cent from 2000 levels by the end of the decade – a significantly stronger target than the current pledge of a 5 per cent cut – to play its part in stopping dangerous global warming, expert advice to the government says.
This would be a fair contribution to limiting climate change to relatively safe levels, it says.
In what could be the last significant act of the authority– the Coalition is moving to axe it along with the carbon tax – it has declared Australia's current unconditional pledge to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 is ''inadequate''.
World leaders have agreed to keep global warming to an average of two degrees across the planet. Between 1880 and 2012 the planet warmed by an average 0.85 degrees.
Scientists warn that warming of more than two degrees would spark dangerous climate change including significantly more frequent and intense extreme weather events and higher sea levels.
In a major review released on Thursday, the authority found a 5 per cent cut by 2020 was not a credible step towards Australia meeting its contribution to keeping warming to two degrees.
''It would leave an improbably large task for future Australians to make a fair contribution to global efforts,'' said the authority, which is chaired by former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser.
It found that action being taken by other countries, including China and the US, meant Australia's minimum commitment was out of step with current global efforts.
The authority recommended that Australia adopt a minimum 15 per cent cut to emissions by 2020, but it found the target should be strengthened with a surplus of international carbon credits Australia has obtained for undershooting its emissions goal under the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol. That would raise the goal to a 19 per cent cut.
The authority calculated the maximum greenhouse gas emissions Australia that should be allowed to release between 2013 and 2050 to play its role in meeting the two degree target.
To meet that budget the authority recommended Australia make a cut of 40 to 60 per cent on 2000 emissions by 2030, with the range to be reviewed periodically.
Launching the report in Canberra Mr Fraser said the Authority's findings were driven by the climate science. He described the recommendations as a: ''step up, but its doable.''
The report finds growth in gross national income would only be 0.02 per cent lower in 2020 with the 19 per cent target in place then compared with a 5 per cent reduction target. Per person that that would mean the average income rise would be just $100 less in 2020 than it would have been the lower five per cent target in place.
The authority said given the complexity of the climate change challenge it makes sense to adopt a wide range of policies to cut emissions, including carbon pricing and emissions trading – which the Abbott government is opposed to – and regulations and industry standards, such as limits on emissions from cars.
It finds costs could be kept relatively low if the government was prepared to buy international carbon permits to meet the higher emissions reductions being proposed in the review. If international credits were used entirely to move from a 5 to 19 per cent cut it would cost between $200 and $900 million.
This assumes an average carbon credit cost of $0.50 to $2. Current prices are below $1.
While the Coalition has vowed to meet the five per cent cut without buying international carbon credits, the authority recommended a government fund be established to buy international carbon credits to close any gap between domestic cuts emissions and the recommended targets but forward in the review.
It concluded an ''emissions budget'' of 10.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was Australia's fair share of the total emissions allowable by 2050 to have a two-thirds chance of keeping warming to two degrees. That represents about 1 per cent of what global emissions by mid-century should be limited to.
Australia is expected to come under increasing global pressure to detail its emissions cuts for post–2020 in the coming year. The United Nations led climate talks are aiming to finalise a new climate treaty change by the end of next year.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a special meeting on climate change later this year. He is expected to push for countries to make stronger commitments to cut emissions.
While in recent times the Abbott government has emphasised the unconditional 5 per cent emissions cut for 2020, Australia has said in international forums it would move to a stronger cut of up to 15 and 25 per cent by 2020 depending on global action.
The Coalition has previously supported this range. It says it will review Australia's emissions targets next year.