Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Labor's stance on climate change is a matter of slogans, whereas he is completely serious.
But Labor leader Kevin Rudd has hit back saying his environmental policy reflects the concerns of the latest United Nations report on climate change.
He said Labor's plan to set interim targets for a national emissions trading scheme would help answer the need for urgent action.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a summary of its three 2007 reports which will be formally presented to global leaders during a greenhouse gas conference in Bali next month.
The summary says human activity is very likely the cause of rising temperatures and that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are needed to avert more heatwaves, melting glaciers, extinctions and rising sea levels.
UN report ‘a wake up call’
Mr Rudd described the report as a wake-up call for Australia and a challenge for policy-makers.
“It's a disturbing report, when it comes to the future of the planet,” Mr Rudd told ABC Radio today.
“It simply underlines the concern that we've had long term about the need for action on climate change.”
Asked if he would change ALP policy in the lead-up to Saturday's election in light of the IPCC report, he said “the report came out yesterday” while Labor had commissioned economist Ross Garnaut “a long time ago” to examine interim emissions reduction targets.
“I've always said we need interim targets,” Mr Rudd said.
“In terms of framing those interim targets, that's why I've commissioned this report and we'll get an interim one by December and a final report by mid next year, and that's in contrast to 11 years of inertia by the current government.”
Labor's long-term target is a reduction of 60 per cent by 2050, against 2000 levels.
Under the toughest scenario considered by the IPCC, greenhouse gases would have to peak by 2015 to limit global temperature rises to 2.0 to 2.4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
New agreement needed: Turnbull
But Mr Turnbull says Australia's carbon emissions will start to go down when a planned trading scheme begins to bite after 2011.
He says a coalition government is committed to a massive reduction in emissions, both locally and internationally.
“I take the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) science very much to heart,” he told ABC radio today.
“I take their warning to heart. The world is facing a very serious challenge.
“I have to say my opponents in the Labor Party do not take this seriously enough – for them it is a matter of slogans.”
Mr Turnbull argues he has been saying all year the world needs a new climate change agreement involving all major emitting countries.
He says the objective should be a complete de-carbonisation of the energy sector – sourcing almost all energy from zero-emission sources.
“Now that is the scale of the challenge and I have been working very hard on that all year with other countries, with the Chinese, the Indians, the Americans, the Indonesians and it is a big challenge.
“That is what I intend to drive for, if we are re-elected, at Bali.”
Yesterday, Mr Turnbull used the UN report to claim there was no point ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and largely ignored the document's warnings.
“In relation to the Kyoto Protocol the report says 'the impact of the protocol's first commitment period relative to global emissions is projected to be limited',” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.
He went on to attack Labor's climate-change policy which includes ratification of Kyoto.
“A serious issue requires a serious response,” Mr Turnbull said. “This issue is too important to be managed by an inexperienced, reckless Rudd Labor government.
“We need a carefully thought through clean-energy plan for Australia and tough negotiators to get the right international climate change outcome for Australia and the world.”
World leaders are expected to start planning a post-Kyoto climate change policy when they meet in Bali next month for an international climate summit.
Costello: it’s not too late
Treasurer Peter Costello says work on combating climate change has to start immediately but stopping the effects of global warming is achievable.
“I think we've got to all work. Australia's got to play its part now,” he told Southern Cross radio today.
“We've doing that with our emissions-trading system and our regional afforestation plans.
“But … if you don't have countries like China or India or the United States (involved), our contribution will not change the global situation.”
He said Australia should play its part but it accounted for just 0.3 per cent of the globe's population.
“I accept that we have to be ambitious, that we have to work hard and I accept that we have to begin now. But it's do-able,” Mr Costello said.
“We have the Treasury which is looking at (an emission-trading scheme) at the moment.
“We've put the emission-trading system out there and the targets will be set after the Treasury work is finished.”