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CANBERRA, Australia (August 30, 2002 – New Zealand Herald/Reuters)---The Australian government yesterday dismissed accusations by Tuvalu that Canberra's environmental policies were contributing to global warming and could sink the island state.

Tuvalu, a chain of nine coral atolls whose highest point is just 4 meters (13.2 feet) above sea level, told the Earth Summit in South Africa that it wanted to file a lawsuit against Australia and the United States, blaming them for its plight.

Australia, the world's biggest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, and the U.S., the world's single biggest polluter, have rejected the international Kyoto pact, which is meant to cut emissions of gases like carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse gases are blamed for driving up temperatures and warming the Earth.

Many scientists argue that the melting of ice caps, due to higher temperatures, is likely to lead to a rise in sea levels. Tuvalu fears it will disappear under the waves within 50 years.

But Australian Environment Minister David Kemp downplayed Tuvalu's threatened legal action and its campaign to enlist Caribbean and Indian Ocean nations in the planned lawsuit.

"I can't see any basis [for this] at all," he said. "Australia contributes about 1 percent of global greenhouse gases so it is very definitely a global issue.

"No country is doing more with the Pacific island countries than Australia to put them in a position where they can adapt and assess the risks."

Australia has rejected a request from Tuvalu to take in some of its 10,000 residents should its 27 square kilometers (10.8 square miles) be swallowed up.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard this month announced a three-year, AUD$ 2.2 million (US$ 1,215,500) project to help upgrade meteorological services in Pacific countries but refused to change Australia's stance over Kyoto.

At the Earth Summit in Johannesburg yesterday, rich and poor nations argued over scrapping billions of dollars in subsidies to Western farmers.

Outside about 200 poor farmers and street traders from nearby shanty townships shouted slogans demanding freer trade.

The U.S. has drawn fire for a new Farm Bill set to boost subsidies to domestic farmers. Rich countries gave about US$ 54 billion in development aid in 2001 but paid more than US$ 350 billion to their own farmers.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

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