Professor Flannery also stunned guests at an RMIT University breakfast by questioning whether he should return his Australian of the Year award because he felt torn between speaking out on climate and remaining politically neutral.
"A couple of years ago there used to be four countries that hadn’t ratified Kyoto," Professor Flannery said. "There was Australia, the USA, Monaco and Liechtenstein. I’m afraid to say that Monaco and Liechtenstein have seen the light, so there’s only two of us left now — the Bonnie and Clyde of climate change, as Al Gore calls us.
"I don’t know what this means for me, or the office of Australian of the Year — whether it’s better for me to give back the award, and say that it’s simply impossible to continue as things are," he said.
He later told The Age he was only speaking hypothetically and had no plans to give up his honorary title.
Professor Flannery’s comments came as Mr Howard stepped up his attacks on Labor and the Greens’ "radical" pledges to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 per cent respectively. "I think it is crazy and irresponsible of any political party in this country to commit to a target when you don’t know the impact of the target," he told ABC radio.
Having previously been dismissive of the need for greenhouse reduction targets, Mr Howard this week declared that setting a long-term target "will be the most important economic decision Australia takes in the next decade".
He again ruled out setting any targets before the end of May, when a business task group reports back on the economic impact of setting up a national emissions trading scheme.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane also accused the Greens of "political populism" for their call to cut emissions by 80 per cent less than 1990 levels, challenging to them to produce scientific evidence to support their pledge.
Yet, as an official submission from the CSIRO to the Prime Minister’s emissions trading task group last month pointed out, most international studies now show developed countries such as Australia will need to slash emissions by 60 to 90 per cent by 2050 to avoid "dangerous levels of climate interference".
The CSIRO also said that a range of economic studies had shown that rapid action to cut greenhouse emissions would only slightly slow economic growth in Australia and globally, with Australia’s economy still expected to more than double by 2040 even with deep emission cuts.