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The UN climate meeting in Bali provides a crucial opportunity for Australia to join the global community in tackling climate change.
Australia is now ideally placed to position itself as a country that will join and lead international efforts to prevent dangerous climate change.
This process will start today in Bali, the stage where a new Australian government will tell the world Australia is now ready to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
But the clock is ticking.
The Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC's) Synthesis Report from just two weeks ago indicates that to avoid more than two degrees of warming, the level that dangerous impacts of climate change kick in, global emissions will need to peak and be reducing by between 2000 and 2015.
Yes, our window of opportunity is already half closed! There is no time to be lost.
Bali provides the opportunity for Australia to have a key voice in setting ground rules for two years of intensive negotiation for post-2012 global climate action.
Regardless of whether Australia is able to physically sign the Kyoto Protocol before the delegates meet today in Bali, the commitment of the Rudd government to do so will be taken on good faith, meaning that the Australian delegation at Bali will be heard.
It will also be noticed and given serious weight that our delegation will be led by the new Prime Minister and include the Treasurer, and ministers for climate change and the environment.
Climate change is a profound economic and social issue as well as an environmental issue.
Australia's senior 'whole of government' approach is appropriate, particularly given how vulnerable our beautiful country is to dangerous climate change.
It is very much in our national interest that the full economic, environmental, and diplomatic capabilities of our federal government, led by the Prime Minister, are focused on working with the global community for solutions.
What should our goal be throughout Bali and the negotiations to follow?
In the early 1990s all countries, including Australia and the US, ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Its objective is the "stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
Unfortunately this was a voluntary or aspirational goal, and while laudable, no one acted. This should still be our goal, but with the teeth and incentives of the Kyoto Protocol to make it happen.
Announcing the UK Government's position for Bali last week, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said "our vision has one overriding aim: holding the rise in global average temperature to no more than two degrees centigrade."
This is not a bad place for Australia to start as well.
It's worth remembering that if global average temperatures go above two degrees here in Australia our agriculture and tourism sectors will be badly hit, we'll face more severe bushfires, droughts, and water shortages, more disease risk and heat stress, costly damage to infrastructure and low lying housing, and even put the Great Barrier Reef at high risk.
On the other side of the coin, achieving a cleaner and more efficient economy will enhance productivity and jobs growth and trade in cleaner technologies.
For effective global action post 2012 to avoid dangerous climate change it is now widely recognised that developed countries, including Australia, will need to take on board stronger 2020 science based targets to cut emissions.
Combined with strong incentives for trade in technologies and actions that cut emissions, this will be the most effective negotiating position to achieve measurable commitments from developing countries like China and India.
Along with needed efforts to tackle the loss of the world's forests and the emissions from their clearing and burning, this provides a great opportunity for Australia to work together with countries of our region on this challenge of our times.
Of course, for Australia to be taken seriously, we'll need to make sure we're getting on with the job of dramatically cutting greenhouse emissions here at home.
There is good news in the IPCC reports. We have the needed technologies. It will only cost the global economy about one tenth of one percent of annual global GDP to avoid dangerous climate change at worst.
Delayed action is much more costly than early action. We have time. But only if the Bali 'mandate' focuses the global community on achieving strong action together post 2012.
It's time to position Australia to lead on tackling climate change at home and abroad - the very inheritance of the next generation of Australians depends on it.
Don Henry is ACF's Executive Director