I’m interested in getting readers’ thoughts on the following scenario:
Two coal mines are proposed in Northern Queensland, near a World Heritage area containing rainforests and coral reefs. The coal mined from these new mines is mostly intended to be exported and its burning will create annual greenhouse emissions equivalent to one-quarter of Australia’s current annual emissions. Emissions lead to climate change which are predicted to have a devastating impact on tropical rainforests and coral reefs in Australia.
The federal government is empowered to consider the environmental effect of proposed developments. Specifically, it is required to consider whether a proposed development is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (which includes world heritage areas among others – see my EPBC Act primer).
Should the government consider the possible environmental impact of emissions from the burning of coal mined from these projects? More generally, should governments be approving or not approving very large coal mines and similar projects based on their greenhouse emissions (or emissions from use of the products they produce)?
The Australian Federal Court on Thursday handed down its decision on this in Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland v Minister for the Environment. ABC online and Sydney Morning Herald have reports on the decision. The decision itself isn’t very illuminating but I think the issues behind it are fascinating and important.
I’ll give you some of my thoughts in the next couple of days, but I’d really appreciate any of your thoughts in the meantime.