Lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) have this week written on behalf of their clients to the State Bank of India (SBI) to request that they do not fund the Adani/Bravus Carmichael coal mine. They have urged the SBI to consider new expert evidence of the climate harms the mine will cause to the Great Barrier Reef that is currently before Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, to consider the teenagers’ request to the Minister to revoke the Carmichael Coal mine approval.
Acting on behalf of teenagers Brooklyn O’Hearn, 17, from Townsville, and Claire Galvin, 19, from Cairns, EJA lawyers have advised the SBI that Minister Ley is currently reviewing a legal request, issued in October, asking her to consider new expert evidence that provides strong legal grounds to revoke approval of the controversial mine.
The billion dollar loan from the SBI would facilitate digging the Carmichael coal mine, one of the largest coal mines in the world, and rail line that would open up the Galilee Basin.
In November, Minister Ley advised EJA that she is reviewing their clients request to exercise her discretionary powers under Section 145 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to revoke the mine’s approval to protect the Reef and the communities who rely on it.
More than 89 companies have now committed to not supporting the controversial coal mine. EJA lawyers have also urged the SBI— India’s largest lender — to note the Constitution of India, under which the right to a clean environment is recognised as a fundamental right. This means the State and its authorities bears a constitutional duty to protect the environment.
Ariane Wilkinson, Senior Lawyer, EJA, said:
“On behalf of our clients, we are asking the SBI decision makers on the proposed loan to Adani/Bravus for the Carmichael coal mine to urgently consider the expert evidence currently before the Australian Environment Minister in our clients’ revocation request.
“Proper due diligence on this loan reveals financing a high-risk project that other lenders have shunned would be disastrous for the climate and for the Great Barrier Reef. Further, Adani/Bravus has a shocking track record of breaching environmental laws, and that track record has never been appropriately scrutinised by Australian regulators and decision makers.
“The expert evidence our clients have provided to the SBI shows new coal production is almost certain to be inconsistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The enormous Carmichael coal project will facilitate the development of two additional coal mines in the Galilee Basin and use up a significant proportion of the remaining global carbon budget to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in turn severely harming the Outstanding Universal Values of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.
“Our clients are young community leaders from northern Queensland, Australia, who are leading the way to address the devastating impacts climate change is having on their communities and on the Great Barrier Reef.”
Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin said:
“Lending money for the Carmichael coal project would help fund a climate disaster. It would harm not only the Great Barrier Reef, but Indian farming communities, all for private profit.
“Since Adani’s mine was approved, we have grown up watching the Great Barrier Reef suffer many mass coral bleaching events caused by climate change. We know that if Adani’s giant Carmichael coal mine goes ahead, it will lock in decades of carbon emissions and our magnificent reef will suffer.
“The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius — accepted by India’s government — finds that human-induced warming has already caused climate damage. Some of the most devastating effects would occur in Australia and India.
“Communities around the world rely on healthy environments to survive. We’re deeply concerned about the devastating impacts climate change is having on the Reef, the communities whose businesses and jobs rely on it, and future generations who may never get a chance to enjoy a healthy reef.
“The world’s governments and lenders have an obligation to protect our climate for future generations. We’re giving the SBI an opportunity to be on the right side of history.”
EJA clients Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin are young community leaders. Brooklyn has just completed Year 12 in Townsville; Claire has deferred her university studies to focus on community organising to avert the climate crisis, and until recently was studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology and Ecology at James Cook University, Cairns. The two young Queenslanders met through organising school climate strikes.
In October, the young women presented Minster Ley with three expert reports that provided sufficient new evidence that the Adani/Bravus mine project would have a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef. This contradicts reasoning by former Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt when he approved the mine in 2015. The independent expert reports, prepared and bound under the terms of the Federal Court of Australia’s Expert Evidence Practice Note and the Expert Witness Code of Conduct, are:
- An expert report by climate scientist Bill Hare, Director, Climate Analytics and Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University. This report estimates the significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef as a result of exported emissions from Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and the Hyde Park and China Stone coal mines that was not identified in Minister Hunt’s original approval.
- An expert report by financial analyst Tim Buckley, Director of Energy and Finance Studies from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The IEEFA’s report demonstrates that the cumulative impact of carbon emissions from two additional proposed coal mines in the Galilee Basin, the Hyde Park and China Stone projects, must be considered as impacts of the Carmichael coal mine, because they will be facilitated by the construction of the Carmichael coal mine, to a major extent.
- An expert report by economist Paul Burke, Associate Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. This report finds that contrary to the claims in the Minister’s rationale for approval, the market substitution assumption is implausible and that it is much more likely that the extraction of coal from the Carmichael coal mine would lead to a net increase in emissions. The evidence finds that the opening of a new thermal coal mine would be likely to lead to a reduction in the market price of thermal coal and an increase in global thermal coal consumption of up to 50 percent of the output of the new mine. If the mine were to proceed, coal from the mine would displace the use of other energy sources including renewables.
When former Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved Adani’s Carmichael mine in 2015, he wrote that “it is not possible to draw robust conclusions on the likely contribution of the project to a specific increase in global temperature”. In his statement of reasons, he said: “As a result it is difficult to identify the necessary relationship between the taking of the action and any possible impacts on relevant matters of national environmental significance which may occur as a result of an increase in global temperature”.1
Minister Hunt prefaced these reasons with a statement that: “The actual quantity of emissions that is likely to be additional to current global GHG emissions depends on a range of variables. They include whether the coal replaces coal currently provided by other suppliers, whether the coal is used as a substitute for other energy sources, and the efficiency of the coal burning power plants.”2
While Minister’s Hunt’s written reasons for approving the Carmichael coal mine in 2015 acknowledged the theoretical possibility of climate change impacts, they expressly found insufficient evidence to demonstrate a causal link between the Carmichael coal mine and any particular increase in global temperatures. The minister therefore did not identify climate change impacts, (including coral bleaching) as a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Since Minister Hunt approved the Action in 2015, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered three mass coral bleaching events over five years, including this year where the Reef suffered the worst coral bleaching events in known history, caused by climate change and significantly worsened by the ongoing mining, exporting and burning of Australian coal.3
The expert reports provided to the Minister Ley by Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin demonstrate that the position on greenhouse gas impacts and potential harm to the Great Barrier Reef taken by Minister Hunt in the 2015 when he approved the Carmichael coal mine has become wholly unsupportable.
Claire and Brooklyn’s letter to the Minister also asks that she take into account Adani’s track record of breaching environmental law in Australia and internationally, including new breaches committed since the mine was approved. Their current request to SBI also noted India’s recognition of a right to a clean environment and the bank’s own policy to protect environmental interests.