The globe's largest greenhouse gas producer, China, has announced it has plans for a modest carbon tax.
And in his recent State of the Union address, the US President Barack Obama announced his plans to improve the country's climate change policy.
But has mainstream science in the debate on climate change lost the initiative? Is there a return to complacency?
One of the world's leading figures in the argument over climate change is in Melbourne to explain how the world can act effectively within a reasonable time frame.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri is the Chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is addressing a public meeting later today on the role of knowledge in promoting sustainable development and tackling climate change.
The IPCC are currently developing the fifth assessment report - Synthesis Report AR5 - to be released in September.
Presenter: Auskar Surbakti
Speaker: Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute
PACHAURI: Well we're in the process of completing the fifth assessment report and the first part of this is going to be out in September of this year. I expect we would be able to fill up a few of the earlier gaps and we'll also cover a number of new items in much greater depth in this report. But overall let me say that the fourth assessment report which came out in 2007 said two important things; the first is that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that most of the warming that had taken place since the middle of the last century was very likely on account of increase in anthropogenic human induced greenhouse gas concentrations. And when we use the term, very likely, we are signing a probability of over 90 per cent.
SURBAKTI: So can we expect the next report to deliver some good news or is it more bad news?
PACHAURI: Well it depends on how you look at it. The good news is that we now have knowledge about climate change and therefore human society knows what needs to be done. If you want to look at it from the point of view of bad news, then the bad news is that we can't allow the current situation to continue, we really have to bring about change, because the impacts are getting progressively more serious.
SURBAKTI: And Dr you've been to Australia several times now so you're well aware of I guess the climate of the debate in the country. Do you think the climate change debate is keeping up or has it lost its initiative, not only in Australia but around the world?
PACHAURI: No I would say around the world I would think the extent of awareness that exists on climate change now is much higher than we've seen in the past. And really there will be those who would always question it, and science always thrives on questioning and debate and discussion. So we welcome that. But it has to be an objective debate and it has to be on the basis of information and scientific knowledge. So I would say worldwide today there is much greater awareness about issues related to climate change than we've had in the past.
SURBAKTI: What is it about climate science that has several sections of the community doubt it while other sciences aren't questioned at all? Why is climate science often caste in doubt?
PACHAURI: Well I suppose if you have to act on meeting the challenge of climate change there are several things that'll change. And we said very clearly in our fourth assessment report that in some cases one of the barriers to change would be vested interests. If change has to take place there will be a few people who gain and a few people who lose. But overall I think if we allow the situation to continue unabated, then clearly everybody loses. By and large the impacts of climate change are going to affect every part of the globe. Of course in some cases it'll be worse than others. And it happens some of the poorest regions in the world are the most vulnerable and therefore we could possibly see climate refugees, we could see a number of people sort of getting disrupted in terms of their livelihoods and existence. So there are going to be impacts which we need to take into account, and of course to take action means we'll have to move from the current pattern of production and consumption, to a somewhat different pattern.
SURBAKTI: What can be done in your view to overcome the sceptics in the climate science debate? Is there something that the IPCC or another organisation is doing to get the word out there, to tell people that climate science is indeed real and based on real facts and figures?
PACHAURI: Well the IPCC is a very lean organisation. Our Secretariat consists of barely a dozen people and we just don't have the capacity to mount a major sort of information campaign across the world. What we expect is that those who understand the science and are concerned about the impacts of ignoring it, will mount an effort to inform the public on the basis of truth, on the basis of scientific evidence. The two arguments that I would put forward are that if we don't do anything then clearly the impacts of climate change are going to be very serious and it'll affect everyone. And the second point is that taking action is really not expensive. I mean we estimated in the fourth assessment report that in 2030 there will be almost six gigatons of CO2 equivalent mitigation potential, which can be realised at negative cost, which means that there are several things we could do which actually don't cost anything. As a matter of fact they would be achieved at negative cost, you can improve the economy by doing those things. So these are the two types of messages that I think we need to spread for people to understand what we're really talking about.
SURBAKTI: In the US President Barack Obama's recent state of the union address, he discussed a revival of carbon trade legislation on US emissions. He also pointed to China as a good example of a country adopting clean energy. Where does Australia's climate change policy sit in the global context, and what do you make of its carbon tax?
PACHAURI: Well to be honest I don't know enough about what Australia's doing but one of the things that I've admired about this country is the way you've been able to adapt to some of the impacts of climate change. Water's a serious problem over here, the management of water resources has been very purposeful. You've had a long period of research on solar energy, renewable energy technologies. So I think these are solutions that would be valuable for the rest of the world, because the world has to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and we also have to find means by which we mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases. And I think Australia has done very well, I'm sure it'll be doing much more in the future. So we look forward to more solutions coming from Australia, not only for itself, but perhaps other parts of the world as well.
SURBAKTI: If we look at a country like China which as you know eclipsed the US as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter several years ago. Many leaders in Australia, but also in other countries, point to China in their emissions and the scale of their emissions. Do you think China is doing enough to curb carbon pollution, or are they on the right track? Should other countries be following their lead?
PACHAURI: Well I've been associated with China in a variety of ways and I can tell you there is a very distinct awareness on the part of the decision makers to move towards a low carbon path of development. In fact the Institute I had in New Delhi, India, and the Chinese government have launched a collaborative project on looking at low carbon development in both India and China, we're doing that together. So I think there is now a clear perception on the part of the Chinese government that they have to start looking at low carbon options. So I expect in the next few years you'll see a lot of action, and mentioned recently about this carbon tax in China which frankly I don't know anything about, is probably a good beginning from what I've heard.