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Government to harness protests to push renewable energy

The Federal Government will tomorrow unveil a scenario for a substantial expansion of renewable electricity generation if it gets its way with a carbon tax.

To emphasise the urgency to act on global warming, it is also warning that one quarter of a million Australian homes may be at risk from rising sea levels under a worse-case scenario.

The Government is hoping to harness the sentiment from the ”Say Yes” rallies held in capital cities yesterday on World Environment Day which organisers optimistically claimed attracted up to 49,000 people.

However, Labor MPs who attended the Canberra rally outside Parliament House in near freezing conditions heard sharp criticism from most speakers of inaction over climate change because of political squabbling.

Former Liberal leader John Hewson criticised Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s election promise of a citizens’ assembly to formulate climate change policy as a ”mad concept”.

He said the unanimity of scientists and economists on the magnitude of the problem and the need for urgent action should send a message to politicians.

Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute said the message from the rally was for politicians to write policies based on science.

”It’s not that the environment movement will say yes to anything, the onus is on politicians to say yes to something good, ” he told The Canberra Times.

”If the Government is taking the impression from the ‘Say Yes’ campaign that anything is good enough, then they’re not listening carefully enough.”

While Ms Gillard tours Northern Australia, Treasurer Wayne Swan will promote scientific and economic arguments in favour of the carbon tax during an address at the National Press Club tomorrow.

He said he had attended Brisbane’s rally as a private citizen.

He said putting a price on carbon would tilt the balance towards investment in renewable energy and forms of power generation that produced lower emissions.

”Treasury modelling shows a carbon price will see gas-fired electricity generation expand by between 150 and 300 per cent over the period to 2050,” he said.

”… in short, dirty energy will become more expensive and clean energy cheaper under a carbon price, creating the jobs of the future and helping to protect our environment and our economy.”

The Government also released additional modelling on the risk from rising sea levels.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said, ”The [predicted] sea level rise of up to 1.1m … would have a devastating impact, as much as $266 billion worth of potential damage and loss.”