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Thousands in Australia Rally to Urge Greater Environmental Protection

Thousands of demonstrators have rallied across Australia to demand greater government action to protect the environment. A series of so-called National Climate Emergency Rallies have been held across the country to demand Australia take the lead at the Copenhagen environment summit in December.

The protesters, dressed in red to highlight the perils of global warming, demanded that the Australian government take a decisive role at the U.N. summit in Copenhagen later this year that hopes to hammer out a global deal on climate change.

From December 7, environment ministers and officials will meet in the Danish capital to try to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012.

Activists also want an end to Australia's dependence on coal. Though inexpensive and abundant, its use makes Australia one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, which many scientists believe contribute to the warming of the earth.

In Sydney, rally organizer Moira Williams says that a coalition of trade unions and religious groups, as well as students and environmental campaigners, is pushing for change.

"We need to be making these alliances and be stronger than the fossil fuel industry that currently has such a strong grip on climate policy in Australia," said Williams. "That is the positive in this rally and in this year that we need to build that movement and it does need to come from the ground up because at the moment we are not seeing any action from the top down."

Scientists have warned that Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of a shifting climate.

As temperatures increase, there are predictions that coastal communities will be threatened by rising sea levels, while other parts of the country could suffer more severe droughts, cyclones and bushfires.

The government in Canberra has repeatedly stressed that tackling climate change is a priority.

Australia is proposing what could be the most sweeping cap-and-trade system in the world that would force larger companies to pay for their carbon emissions. About 1,000 of the country's biggest polluters, from transport operators and aluminium producers to gas companies and refineries, would have to buy permits to allow them to emit carbon.

The legislation is due to be debated in Australia's upper house of parliament, the Senate, next week.

Ministers have said that the proposed trading scheme will help to curb pollution, although business leaders believe the project will cost jobs. Green groups say the measures are not tough enough to help the environment.