The Queensland government in Australia on Tuesday granted Indian mining giant Adani the environmental approval it needs to build the country’s largest coal mine, a decision which environmental non-profit Greenpeace called “a sell-out”.
In a statement, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) announced it had issued a final environmental sign-off for Adani’s Carmichael Mine project, located in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland.
The approval - officially known as an environmental authority - came with about 140 conditions, including nine rules related to the protection of the Black-throated Finch, an endangered bird native to the area.
EHP said it was confident that the strict conditions and environmental requirements placed on its approval for the project “will ensure this mine will not pose an unacceptable risk to the environment and any potential impacts will be closely monitored”.
However, environmental groups challenged this claim. Greenpeace Australia Pacific reef campaigner Shani Tager noted that the Carmichael mine would not only add to the global warming that is threatening the Great Barrier Reef, it would also involve dredging in this fragile coral ecosystem.
“This environmental authority waves through a project that threatens the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which is already suffering from climate change and pollution,” she said. “It’s a short-sighted and, frankly, absurd decision”.
Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive officer of non-profit Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), added in a statement: “I cannot understand why the (Queensland) government would choose to undermine the state’s powerhouse tourism industry and betray the millions of Australians who want the reef to survive and thrive for generations to come”.
The mine, first proposed in 2010 by Adani, will produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal per year, with the bulk of it being shipped to India. The A$16 billion project would cover about 45,000 hectares and include both open-pit and underground mines.
This environmental authority waves through a project that threatens the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which is already suffering from climate change and pollution. It’s a short-sighted and, frankly, absurd decision.
Shani Tager, reef campaigner, Greenpeace Australia Pacific
According to think tank The Australia Institute, burning the coal from the mine will generate 79 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, more than the annual emissions of countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Part of the Carmichael project also involves expanding an existing coal port at Abbot Point in Queensland. Doing so will entail dredging up the sea bed in waters that are home to humpback whales, rare dolphins and sea turtles among other species, and may also damage the nearby Great Barrier Reef, say environmentalists.
Not only has Adani’s project attracted opposition from environmental and community activists, it is also embroiled in several lawsuits. The ACF last November challenged the mine in the country’s federal court, arguing that it has failed to adequately consider the environmental consequences of the project.
In March last year, representatives from Austrlia’s Wangan and Jagalingou Aboriginal groups also wrote to Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to formallly reject an Indigenous land use agreement signed between the government and Adani.
Now that Adani has obtained the environmental approval, it must secure funding for the multi-billion dollar mine, rail, and port project. It also needs to address outstanding legal issues such as compensating indigenous owners of the land and obtaining approvals for power, water, roads, and airport infrastructure.
Greenpeace’s Tager observed that despite government support for the mine, the project has attracted no financial backers in the six years since it was announced. She added that already, 14 international banks including the National Australia Bank, Germany’s Deutsche Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and United Kingdom’s Barclays have refused to fund it.
Furthermore, global trends such as falling coal prices, job losses in the mining industry, and moves by Vietnam, China, and the United States to phase out new coal mines suggest that “the Queensland Government should be creating a transition plan for coal workers, not backing a dead-end project like Carmichael,” said Tager.
ACF’s O’Shanassy added: “”For endangered species, for outback Queensland’s water supply, for the Reef and for future generations – this mine must not be allowed to proceed”.