Australia could become a "carbon energy economic super power" if government and business leaders gave greater incentives to invest in, and use, renewable and efficient low carbon-emission technology. This was the take home message in a wide-ranging speech by climate change expert, Mike Molitor before a capacity audience at UNSW last week.

Dr Molitor, who is a senior adviser on carbon management to PricewaterhouseCoopers and adjunct professor at UNSW's Climate Change Research Centre, canvassed the scientific, economic and policy imperatives facing the world if it is to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Molitor said a "business as usual" approach to energy use and carbon emissions, which are raising global temperatures, will soon trigger irreversible negative impacts to the environment and life on earth. Scientists agree that carbon emissions must fall by 750 billion tonnes before 2050 to achieve an upper "fail safe" level of 450ppm to avert the devastating effects of a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

Reducing emission remains a major political and technological challenge, said Molitor, but global capital markets and powerful initiatives such as The Carbon Disclosure Project already view this it as an unprecedented business opportunity.

"Australia could show tremendous leadership on this issue," said Molitor. "We have plenty of capital, we've got great technology, and we've got the right kind of property rights, and political and legal institutions. We can move into this space as fast as, if not faster than, anybody else.

Molitor cited the case of leading industrial company, General Electric, which sees green technology and carbon capture technologies as one of the greatest business opportunities in history.

Former NSW Premier, Bob Carr, who attended the speech, agreed with Molitor's analysis: "I think his assessment is right. Capital is moving, investment is moving, and business is ahead of governments, especially in the United States. Big business in the United States has moved faster than the Bush Administration, and it is one of the most positive things out of this analysis - that you've got major investors saying, 'We're not putting money into coal-fired power stations: carbon is over.'"