As the rest of the world moves to divest from coal, pledging to deliver policies at the Paris Summit to limit temperature rises to less than 2°C, the Coalition has shocked the world by approving Australia's biggest coal mine. The Conversation has asked its experts to respond.
ADANI'S CARMICHAEL coal mine yesterday received the green light from federal environment minister Greg Hunt for the second time.
In a media release, Hunt said that the approval comes with 36 of the strictest environmental conditions imposed in Australia. Final approval is pending Adani’s submission of a groundwater strategy to the federal environment department.
The approval also includes a rail link from the mine to the Queensland coast as a “precautionary measure to provide investment certainty”.
Below, our experts respond.
Samantha Hepburn, Professor, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University
Federal Minister Greg Hunt has reapproved the Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin, following the decision of the Federal Court in August to set it aside.
The statement of reasons sets out that potential impact such a mine might have on the integrity of the coral reef systems in the Great Barrier Reef cannot be proven given the distance between the mine and the reef. Some heed is given to water impacts and endangered species.
All advice from the independent scientific committee is to be implemented; conservation of threatened species is to be improved through the creation of a A$1 million research program and groundwater management and monitoring plans for water within the Doongmabulla Springs area are required.
In the statement, the minister accounts for greenhouse gas emissions from building and running the mine, however concludes that accounting for emissions from burning the coal is “speculative”. It concludes that these emissions will be controlled under international regulations. Greenhouse gases were a significant aspect of the original Federal Court application by the Mackay Conservation Group.
In ignoring the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the coal (presumably on the formalistic basis that consideration is an indirect rather than an explicit requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), the Federal Minister indicates his preparedness to completely disengage with global climate change imperatives.
If we are to stay under 2℃ of warming, coal is an obsolete resource. The strategic issue for Australia (and the globe) is how to manage the termination of existing coal plants and accelerate the shift to lower carbon intensive energy sources.
Knowing what we do about the imperatives of climate change, approving a vast new coal plant on the eve of the Paris Climate Change talks, in complete disregard of its significant greenhouse gas implications, is unethical and, at a global level, indefensible.
Katherine Lake, Research Associate, Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, University of Melbourne
Minister Hunt’s reapproval of the Carmichael mine is not surprising, given the government’s record for supporting mining and resources projects in Australia.
While the mine itself is contentious on environmental and economic grounds, the Federal Court’s earlier decision was very narrow and did not consider the climate change consequences of the proposed mine, as requested by the Mackay Conservation Group.
The outcome was procedural, in that it required the minister to reconsider the conservation advice for the Yakka Skink and the Ornamental Snake, which are both threatened species impacted by the Carmichael project.
This follows other legal precedents in Australia where the courts have overturned major projects based on procedural grounds, but the climate change impacts of major developments are yet to be considered by the Australian courts.
Adam Lucas, Senior Lecturer, Science & Technology Studies Program, University of Wollongong
Adani needs A$16 billion to construct a coal-dedicated rail line from the Galilee Basin to its expanded port facility at Abbott Point. Fourteen of the world’s leading financial institutions have so far refused to bankroll the project.
The company revealed its intentions to focus on domestic mining and renewable energy in an August earnings statement to investors, and reportedly has begun discussions with landowners in the Bowen Basin to build a large-scale solar plant there.
Although Adani itself appears to be losing interest in Carmichael, the Federal Minister for the Environment seems determined to see the project go ahead, even though it is both economically unviable and environmentally irresponsible.
More to come.
Adani's coal mine is a financial flop. But with enough subsidies any project can be made economically viable. End the handouts, end the mine— Ben Oquist (@BenOquist) October 15, 2015
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