Politicians may have got the science on climate change wrong and don't realise how bad the situation is, a new report says.
The report, by the Australian National University's centre for climate law and policy, says policy-makers have not understood how the carbon cycle works.
Recent research shows climate change could be feeding on itself, and therefore advancing at a faster rate than first thought.
These climate cycle "feedbacks" - where global warming interferes with carbon storage sinks - must be taken into account, the report says.
"Participants in policy processes often rely on data that do not fully account for these (climate) feedbacks," said the report, which was co-authored by a Greens staffer.
It says governments' calculations of the emissions cuts required to keep global warming in check could be wrong.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set a target of a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 but that may not be enough to keep climate change to a maximum three degree rise in temperatures, according to the report.
"Developed country mitigation targets of 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050 are likely to fall well short of what is required to meet these global temperature targets," the report said.
The report says emissions from developing countries must be reduced quickly or carbon dioxide levels will increase to dangerous levels.