Sydney - Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected calls on Tuesday to ban new coal mines in the country, saying it would make no difference to world carbon emissions.
Turnbull told reporters in Canberra that coal would remain a significant part of the world's energy production and that if Australia didn't export coal another country would.
A group of 61 prominent academics, scientists, church leaders, bankers, authors and a rugby star published an open letter in newspapers on Tuesday calling on Australian and world leaders at the Paris climate talks next month to ban new coal mines and impose a global moratorium on coal mine expansions.
The protesters said Australia's plans to expand coal mining were incompatible with the world's objective of limiting global warming.
Signatories included former chair of the Australian Coal Association and ex-Shell executive Ian Dunlop, former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser, Anglican Bishop George Browning, and rugby star David Pocock, who will play in the World Cup final on Saturday.
"Australia has a larger share of the seaborne coal market than Saudi Arabia has of the world oil market," the open letter said.
"Over the next 10 years Australia plans to double its coal exports... these coal export plans will have severe negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of citizens all over the world."
But Turnbull said it "would make not the blindest bit of difference to global emissions," The Australian newspaper reported.
"If Australia stopped exporting coal, the countries to which we export it would buy it from somewhere else," Turnbull said.
"[It] would not reduce global emissions one iota. In fact, arguably it would increase them because our coal, by and large, is cleaner than the coal in many other countries."
Indian owned mines
The protesters' letter followed a similar appeal for an end to new coal mines by the tiny Pacific island of Kiribati, which could be submerged if sea levels rise further.
A key target for the Australian campaign is plans to build one of the world's largest coal mines in central Queensland, the Indian-owned Adani Carmichael mine.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Sunday said there was a "strong moral case" for the Carmichael coal to go ahead as it will boost living conditions in developing countries around the world by giving the poor access to electricity.
Former Reserve Bank government Bernie Fraser told the broadcaster ABC Tuesday that this was "nonsense" and an "obscene" argument.
"It's the vulnerable people around the world that are going to suffer the most, and have the greatest difficulty adjusting to global warming, even to a two-degree Celsius global warming, and a lot of those people are in developing countries, including countries like India," Fraser said.
Turnbull has indicated he will represent Australia at the Paris climate talks that begin on November 30.