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February 20 2013, 2:02PM

A former UK chief scientist says it's "saddening" some Australian businesses have chosen to ignore the reality of climate change instead of embracing the opportunities it presents.

Lord Robert May, the former top adviser to the UK government on science, says such opposition is not evident in Britain, where even major oil companies have accepted the challenges of a changing world.

The esteemed scientist, born and raised in Sydney, is in Australia for a series of conferences on how scientific knowledge can shape public policy and political decision making.

He said that in informing debate, it's crucial that scientific studies are conducted openly and findings are announced to the public without "glossing over" what isn't known.

"Most important of all, you really emphasise the uncertainties," he told AAP on Wednesday.

The public discussion on climate change in the UK has been based around some key, well-established facts from the outset, he said.

It was made clear "beyond doubt" that burning about one million years worth of fossil fuels every 12 months was going to cause climate change, and it would be a "hell of lot" hotter by 2050 if no action was taken.

"There has not been much public opposition to that," Lord May said.

As such, while there has been some dissent to government legislation to reduce carbon emissions significantly by 2050, it hasn't been overwhelming.

He said it was unfortunate that industry, which prides itself on driving innovation and adaptation in the face of change, hasn't welcomed the potential presented by climate change.

The reaction of Australian businesses to "an inconvenient truth" so rife with possibility was "distressing", he said.

"Business's reaction to this, instead of welcoming the challenge and the opportunity it presents to them, is to sort of climb into their cell and just deny that there's a need to do anything," he said.

"I find that saddening."

In Europe, he said, British petroleum company BP and rival Anglo-Dutch giant Shell "have embraced the opportunities they see for a changing world".

Lord May said it was "irritating" when one who denied the "plain fact" of climate change labelled themselves a sceptic, when scepticism was the very basis of science.

"I find that very offensive, because science is organised scepticism," he said.