Australia

‘Unacceptable climate change risks’: Court rules against Clive Palmer’s Galilee coal project in Queensland

Highlights
  • Lawyers say it is the first time a coal mine has been challenged on human rights grounds in Australia.
  • Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal company is seeking approvals for what would Queensland’s largest thermal coal mine.
  • Paola Cassoni, co-owner of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, says the ruling is “a landmark win for nature”.
Clive Palmer’s planned thermal coal mine in Queensland should be rejected because it “risks unacceptable climate change impacts”, a court has found.
The Land Court of Queensland on Friday found in favour of a case against the Palmer-owned Waratah Coal project in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin after a three-year court battle.

The Environmental Defenders Office, on behalf of Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance, opposed the mine on human rights grounds due to its potential contribution to climate change and destruction of a nearby nature reserve.

Court President Fleur Kingham has found that carbon emissions from burning coal mined at the project “will contribute to environmental harm, including in Queensland”.
She has recommended that a mining lease and environmental authority for Waratah’s project be refused by the state government.
“In the end, I have decided that the climate scenario consistent with a viable mine risks unacceptable climate change impacts to Queensland people and property, even taking into account the economic and social benefits of the project,” President Kingham said in her ruling on Friday.

She said the uncertain market demand for thermal coal raised the “real prospect” the mine would not be viable throughout its planned life, or provide the economic benefits.

Lawyers say the case marks the first time an Australian court has heard evidence on-country based on First Nations protocols. President of the Land Court of Queensland Fleur Kingham (left) heard evidence on 31 May 2022. Source: AAP / Brian Cassey

She found the potential subsidence impacts of the mine on the ecological values of the nearby 8000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Reserve were uncertain, and potentially severe.

“The evidence suggests it is likely the refuge will be lost and the ecological values of Bimblebox seriously and possibly irreversibly damaged,” President Kingham said.
The mine would also unjustifiably limit the human rights of Bimblebox owners, Queenslanders and First Nations peoples, the ruling said.
Bimblebox owners would have their rights to property, privacy and home impacted, while associated climate change would limit Queenslanders’ rights to life, property, privacy and home, the rights of children and the cultural rights of First Nations peoples.
“Doing the best I can to assess the nature and extent of the limit due to the project, I have decided the limit is not demonstrably justified,” President Kingham said.

“For each right, considered individually, I have decided the importance of preserving the right, given the nature and extent of the limitation, weighs more heavily in the balance than the economic benefits of the mine and the benefit of contributing to energy security for Southeast Asia.”

The court also rejected Waratah’s argument that the higher quality thermal coal produced at the mine would displacing lower-quality coal projects
“Ultimately, I have decided to recommend both applications are refused,” President Kingham said.
The court president warned her ruling was a recommendation to the minister and the department, who would make the final decisions on whether to approve the mining lease and environmental authority.
Paola Cassoni, co-owner of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, said the ruling is “a landmark win for nature”.

“Today is a huge sigh of relief for us after the 15 years’ nightmare of fighting this project. opefully we can now go back, with the help of our volunteers, to fully concentrate on looking after Bimblebox,” she said in a statement.

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