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60,000 protest in Australia to keep carbon price

Around 60,000 Australians marched yesterday across the country calling on their government not to go backwards on climate action, according to organizers. Australia has taken a sudden U-turn on climate policy with the election of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September, including legislation to end its carbon pricing, cutting funding to renewable energies, and obstructing progress at the ongoing UN Climate Summit in Warsaw.

Abbott, who has expressed skepticism of anthropogenic climate change in the past, ran in part on ending Australia’s carbon price which only into effect in 2012. Last week he introduced new legislation to that effect, saying, “No one should be in any doubt—the government is repealing the carbon tax in full.”

The fledgling program sets a price on carbon for the nation’s top 300 emitters.

“The simple truth is this: that we cannot leave a matter as important as climate change to the fickleness and whim of Australia’s politicians,” Tim Flannery with the Climate Council told an estimated 30,000 people in Melbourne. “We must stand up and be counted [and take] every effort to speed the uptake of renewable energy.”

Open pit coal mine in Australia. The nation is the fourth largest producer of coal and the biggest exporter. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Open pit coal mine in Australia. The nation is the fourth largest producer of coal and the biggest exporter. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Previously known as the Climate Commission, the council was a government program with a mandate to provide independent and expert advice on climate change. However, the Abbott administration quickly shuttered the Climate Commission, leading the group to resurrect itself as a non-profit group.

In addition to its efforts to end Australia’s climate pricing, the Abbott administration also revealed last week that it would lower its carbon target to cutting CO2 emissions by 5 percent based on 2000 levels. However, independent analysis of the government plan to achieve even this scaled-back target found it would likely fail.

Furthermore, the Abbott administration has cut renewable energy funding by $435 million under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The government’s new position on climate change has made waves at the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland. Australia has been criticized for not sending a minister to the meeting, for failing to support a green capital fund to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts, and for backtracking on previous commitments.

Nations worldwide, including Australia which has one of the highest per capita emissions levels in the world, have committed to keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. However, experts and policymakers say the world is moving too slowly in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy to keep this pledge.

“Tony Abbott wants to be defined by climate denialism, and the community wants to be defined by climate activism,” the head of Australia’s Green Party, Christine Milne, said yesterday. “This is really a showdown.”

The last twelve months in Australia have been the hottest on record with experts predicting that 2013 will likely be the warmest in Australia since record-keeping began.

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