Australia should join fully in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and commit to having zero net carbon emissions by 2050, leading economist Ross Garnaut has said.
The author of the landmark 2008 climate change review has expressed support for the carbon reduction target set in independent MP Zali Steggall's climate change bill.
Australia would transform itself from a "laggard" to a full participant in the global effort to minimise temperature rises if it committed to zero emissions by 2050, Professor Garnaut said.
"We can be quite sure that the world won't get to zero by 2050 if Australia doesn't get there," he said.
"At the moment we're a laggard and so we're making it less likely that the world will get there.
"Australians should not underestimate the effect it would have on the global effort from moving from being a laggard to being a full or leading participant in the global effort.
"We are not a country without influence in international affairs."
In a comment piece written exclusively for Australian Community Media, Professor Garnaut said Australia would have to finish faster and earlier if it started slowly on reaching the target by 2050.
"The world has to be zero by 2050 or before to reach the Paris goal of temperature increases below 2 degrees and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees - if the whole world starts now and reduces emissions by about 3.5 per cent of current levels in every year between now and 2050," he said.
The reduction in emissions to zero by that year could minimise global temperature rises to 1.75 per cent above pre-industrial levels.
"If the world doesn't get to zero by 2050, then the temperature increase is going to be bigger than that," Professor Garnaut said.
"How much bigger depends on how long it takes us to get to zero or whether we ever do."
Professor Garnaut's 2008 climate change review reported fire seasons would start earlier, end slightly later, and be more intense.
He predicted the change would be directly observable by 2020.
It was in Australia's national interest to encourage greater global ambition to minimise temperature rises, Professor Garnaut said in his comment piece.
"Australia is the most vulnerable to climate change of all the developed countries. At the moment, commitment to zero global emissions by 2050 is as good as we can get."
Professor Garnaut said the science predicting rising temperatures, lower average rainfall, and worse bushfire seasons in Australia had been correct.
A summer of "heat, smoke, dust, dry river beds and empty dams" had increased Australians' awareness of the nation's vulnerability to climate change, he said.
Professor Garnaut said there were reasons to hope Australia had reached the end of the "climate wars", the period of serious dispute about whether temperature rises were caused by human activity.
Ms Steggall's climate change bill would establish a statutory net zero target.
Professor Garnaut said the bill was an opportunity for federal parliament to move decisively beyond the "climate wars".
"Being introduced by a member of parliament from outside the partisan divide, it can pass without any of the parties of government backing down from explicit electoral commitments," he said.
A global step towards zero emissions by 2050 would give the economy of rural and regional Australia new opportunities, Professor Garnaut said.
"We have more opportunities for capturing carbon in our soils and woodlands than any other country," he said.
"Australia has better renewable energy resources and therefore special advantages in energy using industries than any other country in a zero carbon world economy.
"Both the carbon farming and the energy intensive industry opportunities are all in rural and provincial Australia."