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Thousands rally in Australia for carbon tax
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 5, 2011

Thousands of Australians rallied around the nation Sunday to support a tax on the carbon emissions blamed for global warming, as a new report outlined the risks of rising sea levels from climate change.

In Sydney, demonstrators carried banners reading "Say yes to cutting carbon pollution" and "Price carbon -- our kids are worth it" while similar rallies attracted crowds in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra.

"This should send a clear message to the government to set an ambitious price on carbon that will kick-start investment in clean energy," said rally organiser Simon Sheikh, national director of the activist group GetUp.

The tax is the subject of heated debate in Australia -- among the world's worst per capita emitters -- with the conservative opposition arguing it will slash jobs, hurt exporters and damage the coal industry.

The popularity of the centre-left Labor government has dropped to record lows since Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the proposed levy earlier this year, but climate activists said Sunday that momentum was shifting.

"We think momentum is building, people-power is building, because Australians want action on climate change," Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Don Henry said in Melbourne, where an estimated 10,000 rallied.

"So it's the right time for all Australians, from all walks of life, to say, 'Hey, come on parliamentarians, no matter what your political colour, we pay your salary, we vote you in, we want action on climate change now and that means a price on pollution'."

Under Gillard's proposal Australia, which relies heavily on coal-fired power and exports millions of tonnes of the fuel to Asia, would tax major carbon polluters from 2012 with a fixed-price levy.

This would give way to an emissions trading scheme within three to five years.

The rallies are the second stage of a campaign run by GetUp, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and World Wildlife Fund Australia among other organisations, which last week saw Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett fronting a television campaign advocating action on climate change.

One of the organising groups, independent think-tank the Climate Institute, said the rallies were more a call for action on climate change than a direct endorsement of the government's policy.

"We're trying to send a loud signal," said chief executive John Connor.

"This is not about the exact details but this is very strongly the community saying, 'We want action on pollution on climate change. That we want to make polluters take responsibility. We want investment in clean energy."

Loren Jarrett, who attended the Sydney rally with her family, said she wasn't sure that the event represented a change in feeling within the community, saying previous rallies had provoked anti-carbon tax demonstrations.

"I hope so," she said.

The rallies came as Climate Change Minister Greg Combet released a new report outlining the potential impact of rising sea levels by 2100 based on a sea level rise of 1.1 metres (3.6 feet).

"The report shows exposure of coastal assets to sea level rise is widespread and will likely increase into the future," the minister said.

Australian assets at risk from inundation and erosion included 5,800-8,600 commercial buildings, 3,700-6,200 light industrial buildings and 27,000-35,000 kilometres (16,740-21,700 miles) of roads and rail, he said.

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