The following piece was published December 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
2013 has brought no let-up in the debate among Australia's politicians about whether humans are causing climate change.
Scientists continue to issue warnings about global warming, with some saying the world's already feeling its effects.
This year, floods and fires in Australia and a super typhoon in the Philippines that killed thousands have prompted some world leaders to point to disasters as grim reminders of the potential dangers.
Ildi Amon reports.
In an effort to reduce Australia's contribution to climate change, Labor and the Coalition both committed to reducing greenhouse pollution to five per cent below year 2000 levels by 2020.
But disagreement has continued about how to achieve this target.
The Coalition wants what it calls a Direct Action scheme to replace Labor's pricing mechanism, of which a carbon tax was the first stage.
Having won the election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has claimed a mandate for repealing the carbon tax.
"Madam speaker the Australian people have already voted upon this bill and now the parliament gets its chance. Madam speaker the election was a referendum on the carbon tax. The people have spoken. Now it's up to this parliament to show that it's listened."
But while the repeal bill has cleared the lower house, it's been blocked in the Senate and now looks unlikely to be addressed before the next sittings in February.
Labor insists it will only support legislation that replaces the carbon tax with an emissions trading scheme.
Meanwhile, the independent Climate Change Authority -- that the Coalition is moving to abolish -- says Australia's pollution reduction target should be three times greater than it is.
The Authority says Australia should aim for a 15 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.
Authority chair, former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser, says the current target indicates climate change isn't being taken seriously.
"This is because, compared to some other countries, we are struggling in Australia, I believe, from the distinct lack of a broad political consensus. A consensus for example that global warming is real, and it raises serious concerns which require consistent and long-term policy responses."
One of the Coalition's first moves in government was to shut down the Climate Commission -- a group set up by Labor to educate and inform about climate change science.
The former chief Climate Commissioner, Tim Flannery, told the ABC he was disappointed, but soon crowd-funding established a replacement Climate Council.
"In Australia and the US it's become highly polarised because I think there are huge vested interests in the fossil fuel area. But the facts are there, they need to be explained to the public, the extremes at both ends people need to listen to with scepticism. But it's very important we get a well-informed public because despite the extremes, despite the political polarisation there are facts on the ground. Australians are feeling them now, as our climate starts to change and they need to understand what's happening."
This year, there have been numerous high-profile reports on climate change.
An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said its scientists are 95 per cent sure humans are responsible for global warming.
The same report predicted temperature rises of up to 4.8 degrees Celsius this century, and sea level rises of up to 82 centimetres by 2100.
In response, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, called on world leaders to act.
"We need to build resilience and seize the opportunities of a low-carbon future. Thanks to the dedicated work of a global community of scientists, supported and endorsed by the world's governments, we know the nature of the problem and the options for addressing it. The heat is on, now we must act."
According to a leaked version of another Intergovernmental Panel report, due in March, Australia will face more extreme weather events and higher rate of disease in the coming decades.
The report is likely to say there's broad agreement among scientists that Indigenous Australians will face disproportionate harm from climate change.
Climate Council spokesman Will Steffen says Australia is already seeing extreme weather.
"We're seeing warming of the air, we're seeing warming of the ocean, we're seeing loss of ice and the big polar ice sheets on glaciers around the world, we're seeing many changes in the behaviour of animals and plants around the world, all consistent with a warming world. We saw this in the angry summer. We saw over 100 high temperature records being broken, hottest day on record, hottest month on record, hottest summer on record, now we're seeing the hottest September on record. This last 12 months has been the warmest 12 months we've had in Australian history."
During the New South Wales bushfires in October, the state's former Rural Fire Service commissioner Phil Koperberg told the ABC the fires were unusual.
"Never before have we lost property in October which is indicative of the seasonal change which is clearly taking place. Normally the sort of fire behaviour that we saw last Thursday, and since, you would witness in November or December not so early in this Spring/Summer quadrant."
But the new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, begged to differ in this interview with the BBC.
"I looked up what Wikipedia said for example, just to see what the rest of the world thought, and it opens up with the fact that bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year, large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires. That's the Australian experience."
Experts have warned sea level rises and extreme weather events could result in water and food scarcity, which in turn will create so-called climate refugees.
At UN climate talks in Poland, that took place just after Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines climate change commissioner Yeb Sano broke down describing the impact of climate change on his country.
"I speak for my delegation but I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of those affected. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life."