CANBERRA, Nov 15 (Reuters) Climate activists briefly shut down a coal-fired power station in Australia today to protest against climate policies as a new report outed the country as the world's biggest per head carbon polluter.
A team of 15 activists from the environment group Greenpeace entered the Munmorah power station, north of Sydney, in a dawn raid, hanging banners reading ''Climate change starts here'' and ''Coal kills''.
''It's not a huge power station, but it's an old one and one of the dirtiest,'' Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Clifton told Reuters, adding the plant produced about 1.5 million tonnes of Greenhouse gas each year.
The state-owned plant's operator, Delta Electricity, said a small group had entered the generator site, but the incident did not interrupt electricity production. New South Wales state police said 15 people had been arrested.
Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter and conservative Prime Minister John Howard, behind in polls ahead of a November 24 parliamentary election, has refused to sign the Kyoto climate pact, arguing it would harm Australia's economy.
Opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd has promised to sign Kyoto and put more money into renewable energy research and clean coal technology, but pledged continued support for the coal industry.
Both Howard and Rudd have backed more renewable energy use and a system of carbon trading in Australia by 2012 to give companies a financial incentive to curb carbon pollution. The Greenpeace protest came after a report by the US-based Carbon Monitoring for Action database (CARMA), found Australia was the world's biggest carbon emitter per capita, and ranked seventh in terms of overall carbon emissions.
Australia has vast uranium resources and is a major uranium exporter, but no domestic nuclear power industry, relying instead upon coal-fired power stations for about 80 per cent of its electricity supply.
Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Mark Vaile defended government environment policies, saying Australia was working with China and India to find ways to make coal less of a pollutant.
''I think we need to focus on this issue in a very balanced way,'' Vaile told reporters, adding the government had a 450 million dollar programme designed to find ways to clean up fossil fuels.
University of New South Wales professor of environmental studies Frank Muller said the CARMA report highlighted the need for Australia to shift to more gas-powered and renewable energy, and to curb electricity consumption.
''Our poor Greenhouse performance will increasingly attract international attention if we don't start soon to reduce emissions, especially from the energy sector,'' Muller said.
REUTERS JT DS1225