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Top scientists applaud PM's carbon plan

Twelve senior European and American economists and scientists have written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to congratulate her on policy reforms they say will ”put Australia in the vanguard of the development of low-carbon technologies”.

The letter, also sent to The Age, said the government’s proposal for a cap-and-trade scheme - an emissions trading scheme - would help ensure cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were made at the lowest possible cost to the community.

The signatories are six Oxford University professors and three leading academics from each of the US and Europe.

They include former British chief scientist Sir David King, ex-head of the Oxford economics department Sir David Hendry and Oxford’s director of energy research, Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith.

The letter says that sound policy aims to minimise the long-term economic impacts of climate change and start to rapidly cut emissions.

The government plans a fixed carbon price of $23 per tonne emitted, charged to about 500 companies, to start in July. It would evolve into an emissions trading scheme in 2015.

The letter came as Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson conceded there would not be an agreement leading to a global carbon price soon.

”I cannot see an international outcome on a general price on carbon,” he said. ”That effectively means that countries are going to have to put their hand in their pocket and invest in technology.”

But he said Australia introducing a price on carbon was important to encourage development of clean technology and provide energy security.

It would give a price signal that would allow electricity companies to restart the stalled process of making long-term investments in baseload power plants.

The United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa, starting next month is considered a final chance to reach a new climate pact before the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol - which binds most developed countries to emissions cuts - lapses next year.

With a deal considered unlikely, Australia and Norway have jointly called for the Durban conference to agree to a timetable under which a strong deal with targets for developed and developing nations would be reached by 2015.

Mr Ferguson was speaking at a Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute meeting in Melbourne.

A report on the development of carbon capture and storage technology found that the number of large-scale projects across the globe fell slightly this year, from 77 to 74, but those at or near completion had increased. Eight were operating and six were under construction.

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