The Morrison government's climate change advisers say Australia and others must do a better job of cutting emissions for the world to meet the Paris goals, and more ambitious policies are needed to put the nation "firmly" on the path to a zero-carbon economy.
The statement coincides with a new scientific assessment of the Great Barrier Reef that found coral had suffered an "unparalleled" decline over the past five years and the damage wrought by climate change would only worsen.
The Climate Change Authority on Thursday released a consultation paper to inform advice to the government, to be delivered later this year, on meeting Australia's international climate obligations.
The paper signalled the authority is investigating a number of contentious policy areas. These include the government's plan to meet the Paris targets by using so-called carryover carbon credits Australia accrued by exceeding its emission reduction targets in the Kyoto Protocol period to 2020.
The authority noted that Australia's emissions continue to rise. Official data in June showed Australia's greenhouse gas emissions rose for a third year in 2018 under the Coalition government.
The emissions increase has occurred every year since 2015, when Australia signed up to the Paris deal. Under that agreement, Australia pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Australia is expected to increase the ambition of this target over time.
The authority said there "is now a stronger understanding that most countries, including Australia, need to do more if the world is to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals".
It said Australia needed "robust" policies that "complement, rather than hinder" attempts to adapt to climate change.
Australia should be positioned to not only meet its 2030 emissions target, but also to meet more stringent future targets "that put Australia clearly and firmly on the path to net-zero emissions", the authority said.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed that global emissions must rapidly reduce to reach net zero in the second half of this century.
Issues on which the authority is seeking public input include how the government should best take advantage of the global transition to net-zero emissions while managing risk, and the role of carryover credits and international permits - the latter of which represent emissions reductions made overseas.
Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor is on leave. The acting minister Sussan Ley said the government had made "responsible and achievable commitments to reduce our emissions and we have a strong track record in meeting and beating our targets".
"We will do this while growing the economy, creating jobs, protecting our environment and keeping power prices down," she said.
The government routinely says the nation produces only a tiny fraction of global emissions. However, Australia has among the highest per capita emissions in the world, and as the driest inhabited continent on earth is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
Meantime, the Australian Institute of Marine Science has delivered a dire assessment of the Great Barrier Reef, which is struggling with the effects of climate change and other threats.
The federal scientific agency said hard coral cover in the north and central parts of the reef were "close to, or at, the lowest levels recorded" in the more than 30 years since monitoring began, however, the north section appeared to be stabilising. Hard coral cover was also declining in the southern reef.
The institute said the reef had been "subjected to a period of intense disturbance activity in the last five years". This included a cluster of severe tropical cyclones and major bleaching events - both associated with climate change - and a fourth wave of damaging crown-of-thorns starfish.
This had "caused widespread coral declines on a spatial scale which is unparalleled in the history of [long-term monitoring program] surveys," the report said.
It said climate change would cause more powerful storms and more frequent and intense mass coral bleaching, slowing the reef's recovery.
- SMH/The Age