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Australian court backs coal mine expansions in key climate case

11th October 2023

By: Bloomberg

  

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An Australian court backed the government’s decision to approve expansions of two coal mines in a case that’s challenged the climate credentials of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s administration.

Justice Shaun McElwaine upheld a decision by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to authorize the Whitehaven Coal and MACH Energy Australia projects, rejecting calls from activists for her to reconsider the climate risks posed by additional coal production.

“In no sense is this a case about the denial of climate science or the existential threat posed by climate change,” McElwaine said in a judgment Wednesday at the Federal Court in Melbourne. However, the case has raised issues for parliament to consider further on how global warming risks should be assessed, he said.

Australia, one of the world’s top shippers of fossil fuels, has seen a slew of legal challenges against projects over their forecast impact on global warming. Attention has also focused on Albanese’s support of a coal industry that delivered A$128 billion ($82 billion) in export earnings last fiscal year, even as his government pursues more ambitious cuts to domestic emissions.

Plibersek and the coal producers were joint respondents in the legal challenge made by the Environment Council of Central Queensland, an advocacy group that argued the minister acted unlawfully by not taking into account climate and ecological risks.

“Our environment laws are broken so long as they fail to tackle climate change,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said in a statement. “The Environment Minister should be on the side of the environment to protect our climate, our rivers, our reef and public safety instead of teaming up with coal and gas companies.”

Whitehaven has sought approval to continue operations at its Narrabri underground mine through 2044, while MACH — controlled by Indonesian billionaire Anthoni Salim’s Droxford International Ltd. — aims to extend production at Mount Pleasant to 2048.

Campaigners have also criticized Albanese’s government and exporters over their insistence that because global coal demand remains strong, any decision by Australia to restrict exports would only encourage other nations that supply lower-quality — and more polluting — raw materials to lift sales.

Australia’s center-left Labor government has granted approvals to four coal projects since taking office last year, according to campaign groups. Plibersek in February blocked development by mining tycoon Clive Palmer of the proposed Central Queensland Coal Project, citing environmental risks including to the Great Barrier Reef.

Coal exports from Australia are forecast to continue to expand through 2025, driven by growth in markets including India, the country’s industry ministry said this month.

Edited by Bloomberg

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