Time is running out to stop Indian multinational conglomerate Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine which will harm the environment, have little economic benefit and trample indigenous rights, said activists and clean energy advocates in Sydney on Wednesday.
Speaking at a public talk organised by the Stop Adani campaign at the University of Sydney’s Seymour Centre, Isaac Astill, divestment campaigner at anti-fossil fuel group 350.org Australia, noted that there could be as little as eight weeks before the Australian government and Adani’s board decide whether the mine goes ahead.
The company has said that its board will finalise an investment decision about the controversial project by June, and its chairman Gautam Adani has also recently told the Indian press that he expects final approvals from the Australian government in May or June. The company has said that if it receives the necessary approvals by June, work can begin as soon as August.
“So we are up against the clock here,” Astill told the audience of almost 800 Sydneysiders. The Carmichael mine will be Australia’s largest mine if it goes ahead, and movement to persuade policymakers and financiers to withdraw support from the project needs to scale up significantly, he added.
There are many reasons to oppose the mine, said speakers at the event, which was organised by Stop Adani, a coalition of groups including 350.org, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network.
First, there is the environmental impact of the project. Adani’s proposed project involves 16 open cut pits and three underground mines, and the company has approval to extract up to 60 million tonnes of coal per year for 30 years. Adani also plans to build a railroad from the mine to the coast, as well as a new coal terminal from which ships will carry the coal to India.
In addition to the habitat destruction that will result from digging the mine, the route of ships hauling the coal away also pass through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Park, increasing the risk of oil spills and boat groundings damaging the already endangered reef. Building the new coal terminal at Abbot Point will also require the dredging of undisturbed sea bed area, and threaten marine species such as dugong and Green and Flatback turtles, say campaigners.
Scientists have also estimated that burning the coal extracted from the mine will generate 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which will eat up more than 0.5 per cent of the world’s remaining carbon budget if it is to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Vaishali Patil, a social activist who has campaigned against Adani’s projects in India, said that Adani’s projects in India have caused such severe water pollution along the country’s western coast that thousands of fisherfolk and farmers have lost their livelihoods.
“Adani’s mine must never be allowed to go ahead,” she said, adding that Indians stand in solidarity with Australians in their fight against Adani.
Tell politicians it is no longer okay to stand by a giant coal mine and say “this is good for my electorate”.
Blair Palese, chief executive officer, 350.org Australia
Stranded assets and rights violations
Danny Kennedy, a clean energy entrepreneur and founder of solar firm Sungevity, added that there is absolutely no economic case for the Adani project, from the perspective of job seekers and investors alike.
Firstly, Adani has claimed that the project will create 10,000 jobs, a claim that is echoed by politicians who support the mine. But a consultant hired by Adani to testify in a legal case against the company has said that over the life of the project, “it is projected that on average around 1,464 employee years of full time equivalent direct and indirect jobs will be created”.
In contrast to this, the Australian Conservation Foundation predicts that 2,700 direct jobs would be created in Queensland if the 10 new solar farm projects currently under consideration by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency go ahead.
At the same time, the coal mine and infrastructure’s potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef jeopardises almost 64,000 jobs that the site currently provides.
Adani is also a risky long-term investment, said Kennedy. While the mine’s supporters claim that the coal is essential for meeting India’s energy needs and addressing energy poverty in the region, India may not actually need Australian coal in a few years, he said.
India’s energy minister Piyush Goyal for example in January said that the country is aiming for “zero coal imports” in the “next few years”, pointing to an uncertain future for the coal that Adani intends to import from Australia.
India’s coal import drops 25 per cent in Dec 2016 (YoY); aims to eliminate coal dependency in the next few years. pic.twitter.com/s4qa5Y2QP2— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) January 18, 2017
Goyal has also said that solar is now a more cost-effective means of power generation than coal, making it a stronger candidate to solve India’s energy poverty than coal; and that India is likely to deploy more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022. For comparison, the world’s total installed solar capacity in 2014 was 181 GW.
With all the signs pointing to India weaning itself off imported coal, and relying more heavily on solar, Adani’s Carmichael mine “is a stranded asset waiting to happen”, said Kennedy.
Instead of coal, “Townsville (a town near the Carmichael project site) can set itself up as a clean energy hub, and take the technology to Asia,” he urged.
A weak economic case aside, the Adani project is also a threat to the customary lands and rights of indigenous people. The Wangan and Jagalingou people, for instance, have been refusing to hand over their land to Adani for the mine since 2012.
However, the government has undermined their opposition by proposing changes to laws surrounding indigenous rights to land (known as native title laws) and water, so that all applicants in a land use deal are no longer required to sign an agreement.
Amelia Telford, national co-director of the indigenous Seed climate network, said: “We feel the pain of future generations that are inheriting this mess.”
“We cannot stand by and let Adani trample over our land,” she added.
But despite the widespread opposition to the mine, Australia’s politicians have largely continued to support the mine, a stance activists claim is driven by funding and lobbying from the fossil fuels industry. The Queensland government has already signed off on environmental approvals for the mine.
To stop the mine from going ahead, members of the public should contact their elected officials via email, phone or in-person meetings to ask them not to support the mine, suggested speakers.
As Blair Palese, chief executive officer of 350.org Australia urged the audience, “Tell politicians it is no longer okay to stand by a giant coal mine and say this is good for my electorate”. While most major international banks including three of Australia’s ‘big four’ institutions—National Australia Bank, ANZ, and Commonwealth Bank—have ruled out the possibility of funding Adani’s Carmichael mine.
However, the last of the big four, Westpac, has refused to do so, despite vocal protests from its customers and the public. To pressure the bank into refusing to fund Adani, 350.org’s Astill urged members of the public to find and join a group of campaigners, who “adopt” a Westpac branch around the country, and talk to its staff and customers to educate them on why Westpac should not fund Adani.
Individuals can also start their own community campaigning group. Resources such as banners, placards and posters are also available on the Stop Adani campaign website, noted Astill.
There is little time to waste before Adani’s board and the Australian government decides on the future of the Adani mine, stressed Astill. “The movement needs to grow up rapidly.”