Australia must aim for zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible otherwise bushfire conditions will deteriorate significantly, economist Ross Garnaut says.
Professor Garnaut undertook a review for the then-Labor government in 2008, which concluded climate change would make bushfires worse in Australia by 2020.
“Things will keep getting more challenging, hotter conditions will be worse for bushfires,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
“That will continue to be the case until the world has zero net emissions. It’s in Australia’s national interest that we’re part of the global effort to get to zero net emissions as soon as possible.”
Australia has pledged to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under pressure for his handling of the bushfire crisis as well as his government’s attitude towards the link between climate change and carbon emissions.
Mr Morrison says he accepts climate change is driving longer, hotter and drier summer seasons and the government’s emissions targets need to “evolve”.
But he says this won’t include introducing a carbon tax or shutting down industries.
Professor Garnaut says the government could ensure the coal and natural gas industries buy carbon credits to offset their future emissions, which continue to grow.
“It’s really important that Australia be part of the international community that’s seeking more ambitious outcomes, rather than a drag on the global effort,” he said.
“We’ve been a drag in recent years.”
But Professor Garnaut, an economic adviser to late prime minister Bob Hawke, concedes a higher target is unlikely until Australians next head to the polls.
“Prime Minister Howard went to the 1996 election saying there would never ever be a GST, and he won the 1998 election promising a GST,” he said.
“Let’s hope we see much stronger commitments after this electoral term.”
Natural Disaster Minister David Littleproud has continued to stand by the government’s plan to use carryover credits towards achieving the Paris target.
Australia is the only country which plans to use the accounting technique.