By Gary Cox

Canberra - Pressure mounted on the Australian government on Tuesday to resume international climate change talks after a report by a government agency foreshadowed a dramatic surge in temperatures in the next 70 years.

Australia's key government research organisation, the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), predicted a drier and hotter Australia, with average temperatures rising by up to six percent by 2070.

"Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases are the culprit," head of CSIRO's atmospheric research group Peter Whetton said in a statement.

Whetton said the projected six percent increase in average temperatures - raised from an earlier 1996 estimate of 3,8 percent - showed Australia had to join a worldwide effort against global warming or suffer the consequences.

He said the Kyoto protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, rejected last month by United States President George W Bush, was "a step in the right direction".

The pact, agreed in Kyoto in 1997, foresaw industrialised nations cutting greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide by an average 5,2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

Bush said the Kyoto agreement was economically harmful and impractical in that it did not include developing nations like China, which are increasingly big polluters.

Australia has not formally withdrawn from the treaty after the United States withdrew its support, but government officials say they believe the pact is dead if it does not include the world's largest consumer of resources.

"Kyoto really represents a small first step in the direction in which the global effort needs to go if we want to significantly moderate potential future changes in the climate," Whetton said.

Australia, the world's top coal exporter, has called for a new approach to greenhouse gas reduction.

"If the greenhouse issue is to be effectively addressed globally, something has to be done about constraining the emissions from developing countries," Industry Minister Nick Minchin said in a statement.

"The government is committed to meeting its international greenhouse obligations but we are not prepared to sacrifice Australian industry jobs when ratification of the protocol, as it stands, will not constrain emissions from developing countries."

Australia's opposition Labor Party renewed calls for the conservative government to rethink its approach to Kyoto.

"This is a wake-up call for Australia to disengage itself from the Bush policies. It sends a message to Australians that we need to actually work to ratify the Kyoto protocol," opposition environment spokesman Nick Bolkus said in a statement.

On releasing the revised climate change predictions, Whetton issued a warning about environmental change bringing tropical pests, water shortages, less snow and wilder weather to Australia.

CSIRO predicted that tropical cyclones could increase by 20 percent in intensity in the north, and said all projections forecast drastically lower rainfall for Australia, a major agricultural exporter. - Reuters