Former federal environment minister Peter Garrett slammed the Abbott government's environmental policies as negligent and called for young Australians to show a renewed interest in shaping the future of political parties.
The former Midnight Oil front man, who will present the annual Krebs Lecture at the University of Canberra on Tuesday night, said political parties should be platforms for reform and not hollow shells of apparatchiks.
"We need a renewal of the structure of politics – you've got to come off the sidelines and into the field of play," he said.
Mr Garrett said it was clear many young Australians were frustrated with political leadership on climate change but there was never a more important time to engage than now.
"Quite often the substantive work of elected politicians goes unnoticed but at the same time, who wouldn't be dismayed by some of the behaviour you see not only in the Parliament but broader afield?"
Mr Garrett said an ongoing policy review process within the Labor Party was an opportunity for members to question whether they were being ambitious enough with the emissions targets.
"Whyalla is still here and it hasn't disappeared off the map and a leg of lamb is not triple the price," he said.
Mr Garrett said the scientific evidence of climate change revealed a clear threat to the health of the planet despite a lack of action from some politicians and corporations.
"Powerful institutions like governments, and corporations that contribute greenhouse emissions, refuse to act to significantly reduce the impact of dangerous climate change. It's time they were held to account," he said.
"There are a number of steps people can take to make sure Australia plays a positive role in averting climate chaos, but we need to act now."
Mr Garrett said there was a need for Australians to represent their feelings and views not only once every three years, but by more active civic engagement.
"That is a really essential function for us to start to see the changes that we need," he said.
The annual lecture dedicated to Professor Charles Krebs, which has already sold out, will be broadcast on the University of Canberra website.
Previous Krebs lecture presenters include former Greens leader Bob Brown, Professor Tim Flannery and Dr Brian Walker.