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Australia's ex-central bank chief says gov't coal mine "moral case" is "nonsense"

SYDNEY, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- Australia's energy policies are coming under increasing pressure in the lead up to the Paris climate talks after a former central bank governor said it's "nonsense" to claim a "moral case" for opening new coal mines.

Bernie Fraser, former head of the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Climate Change Authority, joined 60 other prominent signatories in an open letter published on Tuesday calling for a moratorium on coal mining to be negotiated at the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Paris.

"These kinds of conferences don't like surprises, particularly at late stages but it's a timely occasion to be discussing the idea even if it transpires that it's only around the fringes of the formal meeting," Fraser said, after noting the idea came from Kiribati's president.

The smaller pacific nations have been vocal opponents to the snail's pace of reform to the global climate policies, seeking an agreement to limit warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius rise, fearing their islands will be swallowed up by the eventual sea-level rises if a two-degree increase is agreed.

"We in the Pacific did not cause climate change, but we suffer because of it," Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told the Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit in September that was dominated by climate change.

It has been reported the small island nation of Kiribati has bought land in Fiji in case the country must evacuate and that seawater is encroaching on grave sites in the Marshall Islands.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who boycotted the Pacific Island Forum leaders summit, urged Australia to abandon the "coalition of the selfish" and put the welfare of the Pacific islands ahead of coal industry interests.

Australia's Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg believes there is a moral case for the country to continue developing coal interests for export as a way to provide electricity to impoverished and developing nations such as India.

However Fraser said this view is "nonsense," arguing it is the vulnerable people who are going to suffer the most and have the greatest difficulty in adjusting to global warming, including those in India.

"It's a nonsense argument really and to sort of put a moral label to it is quite obscene really," Fraser said.

Fraser said current post-2020 policies, which he predicts will actually see temperature increase by three degrees, are not without cost.

"But the costs of not doing these kinds of things and having to contend with a three-degree increase in global warming, or even something bigger than that, those costs are even greater," Fraser said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended Australia's coal industry, saying a moratorium would not make "the blindest bit of difference to global emissions."

"If Australia stopped exporting coal to the countries to which we export, they would simply buy it from somewhere else."

Coal is an important part of Australia's energy agenda as "energy poverty is one of the big limits on global development," Turnbull said, while acknowledging the improvements in renewable energy technology had been "extraordinary."

Turnbull has previously indicated he will represent Australia at the climate talks, which start November 30.

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