The 12-day conference will focus on increasing funding for emission cuts, to protect forests and transfer clean technology to poorer countries. After the disappointment of Copenhagen last year, expectations of the Cancun meeting are being kept in check. The top US climate negotiator claims Washington and Beijing - the worlds biggest greenhouse gas emitters - have moved towards closing serious differences. But in Australia, the world's biggest per capita greenhouse gas emitter, the government is refusing to raise its carbon reduction target until international conditions are met.
Presenter: Linda Mottram
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Christina Figueres, UN Climate official; Greg Combet, Australia's climate change minister; Christine Milne, Australian Greens climate spokesperson; Dr Frank Jotzo, climate change policy economist, Australian National University
PACHAURI: We hope Cancun signifies a major step in action to deal with the challenge of climate change.
MOTTRAM: The chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Dr Rajendra Pachauri at the opening of the two week meeting in Cancun earlier this week. His reference to a "major step" indicates what's long been clear .. that these talks won't produce a new and binding international agreement. Rather they'll try to rebuild the confidence so savagely shaken at Copenhagen by getting agreements in key areas like reducing deforestation and funding for developing countries to adapt to climate change.
There's also pressure for the conference to clarify what happens after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. It required industrialised countries to reduce carbon emissions by five percent by 2012. So far, there's nothing agreed to take over from Kyoto. UN Climate official Christina Figueres told delegates they should give force to the carbon emissions commitments countries have made after Copenhagen failed to reach a new binding international deal.
FIGUERES: I urge you to resolve these issues with priority so that a balanced outcome in Cancun can be achieved. A tapestry with holes will not work and the holes can only be filled in through compromise.
MOTTRAM: Meanwhile Australia says it wants to see Cancun deal not only with deforestation and assistance to the developing natoins, but also with the problem of measurement and verification of carbon reduction measures.
And Australia maintains an overarching goal of a binding international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees celcius.
But Australia's climate change minister, Greg Combet, who'll travel to Cancun next week, has had to defend his government's refusal to raise its unconditional carbon reduction target from five per cent, despite documents showing his department has advised it should go to 10 or 15 per cent.
COMBET: The five per cent reduction by 2020, our unconditional target over year 2000 levels, represents a 34 per cent per capita reduction in carbon pollution over 1990 levels. That's a third less carbon pollution per person. This is a significant target and let it not be said that the five per cent reduction is not significant. It is very significant in an economy with the emissions intensity of the Australian economy.
MOTTRAM: And while the Prime Minister Julia Gillard this week brought forward to next year the target for establishing a carbon price for Australia, any further ambition risks falling foul of a hostile Parliament, as the previous Rudd government found when it's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme couldn't secure passage through the Senate. But internationally too, Australia remains reluctant to do more until certain conditions are met .. including substantial cuts to pollution by China and India and a commitment by developed nations to action comparable to Australia's proposed higher targets.
The minister Greg Combet again.
COMBET: Those conditions have not yet been satisfied from the government's point of view and therefore our five per cent unconditional target is where we stand at the moment.
MOTTRAM: But the Greens, who's grown in political influence since the August general election in Australia, reject that position.
The Greens climate change spokesperson is Senator Christine Milne who points particularly to China.
MILNE: China has done a whole range of things. It's looked at its transport networks for example, it brought forward the construction of something like 13,000 kilometres of very fast rail, electrified for example by 2013. It has put quite challenging targets for the energy intensity of its economy, so in other words to be able to produce more with less carbon output. It has moved in terms of vehicle fuel efficiency standards, its got some of the highest standards in the world and it is now roducing highly efficient cars. So they're just some of the means by which they've done it.
MOTTRAM: And while there are questions about how successful China's measures are, Senator Milne also points to emissions trading schemes in Europe and a number of US states, as well as a promise form China, and gross feed in tariffs for renewable energy in countries like Spain.
Domestically though Australia is in the grip of a debate about the cost of meeting any targets. Rising electricity prices, not necessarily caused by trying to meet climate goals, are headlined as a cost the public shouldn't have to bear.
But academic experts like the Australian National University's Doctor Frank Jotzo say government's should do more to manage a necessary economic transformation.
JOTZO: Australia has gone through several other major episodes of economic transformation before and has come out all for the better.