UNSW climate scientists and energy markets experts have given a largely critical response to the Federal Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which was released in a White Paper this week.

The Government's stated goal of cutting Australia's carbon emissions by five per cent of 2000 levels by 2020 - or up to 15 per cent if there is a commitment to action from all major economies globally - has been described as a missed opportunity and a win for large emitters.

Professor Andy Pitman, co-director of UNSW's Climate Change Research Centre and a lead author on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the five per cent target fell short of the change needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

"The science is uncertain but it's uncertain in the range of 25 to 50 per cent - not five per cent or 10 per cent or 15 per cent," he said.

"It needs to be much deeper than that if we want to avoid dangerous, anthropogenic climate change. A global five per cent cut in emissions probably - perhaps certainly - commits the Earth to warming in excess of 'dangerous'."

Dr Regina Betz and Dr Iain MacGill, the co-directors of UNSW's Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets (CEEM), said the Federal Government's position didn't appear sufficient to achieve any of the Three Pillars of its climate change strategy, namely: Reducing Australia's carbon pollution; Adapting to unavoidable climate change; and Helping to shape a global solution.

"The real winners are clearly large emitters who appear to have successfully persuaded the government to propose weak 2020 targets and provide them with billions of dollars of subsidies beyond even those proposed in the Green Paper," they said.

"All of these free permits represent a lost opportunity to move financial flows towards creating a lower carbon Australian economy and addressing adverse impacts on the most vulnerable members of our community."

Dr Mark Diesendorf, deputy director of UNSW's Institute of Environmental Studies, said the 15 per cent target was unlikely to be achieved.

"The greenhouse target of a five to 15 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 is actually a pathetically low five per cent target," he said.

"Since 'all major economies' will not commit to a comprehensive global agreement in the foreseeable future, the 15 per cent is simply a piece of steak thrown to silence the guard dog."

UNSW Conference: White Paper in detail

The Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets Annual Conference, which this year has the title, "The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper: What's proposed, what's changed, what's missing", will discuss the White Paper and Australian energy and climate policy more generally this week.

The conference is on Thursday, December 18, from 9am to 2pm at the Hugh Dixson Lecture Theatre in the AGSM Building on UNSW's Kensington Campus.

Media Contact: Peter Trute | 02 9385 1933 | p.trute@unsw.edu.au