Two North Queensland teenagers today presented the federal government with new expert evidence and strong legal grounds to revoke approval of Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine.
Acting for the young community leaders— Brooklyn O’Hearn, 17, from Townsville; and Claire Galvin, 19, from Cairns — lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia said the three independent expert reports provide sufficient new evidence for Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, to exercise her discretionary powers under Section 145 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to revoke the mine’s environmental approval.
Through their lawyers, the young women have obtained independent evidence from climate and economic experts that finds the proposed mine would increase global greenhouse gas emissions and 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 young community leaders from Reef coast communities have sent Minister Ley a legal request asking her to review the new expert evidence and revoke the mine’s approval to protect the Reef and the communities who rely on it.
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.
Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin said:
“Since Adani’s mine was approved, we have grown up watching the Great Barrier Reef suffer numerous 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.
“Our North Queensland communities rely on a healthy reef to survive. We are 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.
“We have friends who work in tourism and on dive boats. The impacts from burning coal from the three mines will hit the tourism and hospitality industries hard. If this mine goes ahead reef-reliant communities like Cairns will struggle to recover with frequent coral bleaching, especially with the additional impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The federal government has an obligation to protect our magnificent Great Barrier Reef for future generations under Australia’s national environment law. We are giving Environment Minister Sussan Ley an opportunity to be on the right side of history and revoke approval of Adani’s mine.
“We ask Minister Ley to consider the expert evidence we have provided and revoke approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the communities who rely on it.
Ariane Wilkinson, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia, said:
“These young Queenslanders have done their homework, when the federal government has not. This evidence clearly demonstrates that Adani’s mine will increase global warming and cause significant damage to our Great Barrier Reef.
“Had this evidence been considered at the time Adani’s Carmichael coal mine was approved in 2015, the grounds for approval stated by former Minister Greg Hunt would not have been feasible.
“In considering this new evidence Minister Ley must take into account both the precautionary principle and the principle of intergenerational equity – she should revoke approval of Adani’s mine to prevent serious and irreversible harm to the Reef and ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the Reef, and the communities who rely on it, is maintained for the benefit of future generations.”
“This is also an opportunity for Minster Ley to take into account Adani’s shocking track record of breaching environmental laws, including the new breaches that have occurred since the mine was approved.”
Brooklyn and Claire’s letter to Minister Ley is here.
Detailed backgrounders and interviews are available with:
- Claire Galvin and Brooklyn O’Hearn.
- Ariane Wilkinson, Senior Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.
- Bill Hare, climate scientist and Director, Climate Analytics and Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University.
- Tim Buckley, financial analyst and Director of Energy and Finance Studies from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
2015 APPROVAL OF ADANI’S MINE:
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.
The 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.
THE YOUNG NORTH QUEENSLANDERS:
Brooklyn is in Year 12 at Kirwan State High School 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.
Brooklyn became concerned about the climate crisis during the February 2019 floods in Townsville. She couldn’t go to school and her parents couldn’t go to work. Once she found out about the climate strike “I finally found a way I could take action. I was determined to find more ways I could help.” In primary school she had learned about coral reef bleaching, and as she got older she recognised that the causes of and solutions to climate change include “fossil fuels and politicians with the power to stop harmful projects like Adani and to fund our future with community-owned renewables.”
Claire remembers a childhood snorkelling the reef, and being “absolutely stunned at the entirely different world that was underneath the water – the most special thing ever.” She became increasingly alarmed at widespread coral bleaching, as did her friends. “I have friends who work in tourism and on dive boats. The impacts on the Reef from burning the coal from those three mines would take a hit to the tourism and hospitality industries and additionally, Cairns has been hard-hit because of coronavirus. We need to urgently phase out fossil fuels, including coal, to ensure our reef and communities can thrive. Otherwise, Queenslanders will lose an international wonder and an integral part of our regional economy.
Adjunct Professor Bill Hare is a climate scientist and Director, Climate Analytics and Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University. He was lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, for which the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He led the influential World Bank Turn Down the Heat reports series in 2013-2014, and has authored many peer-reviewed articles in leading academic journals. He was instrumental in the negotiation of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Tim Buckley is a financial analyst and Director of Energy and Finance Studies from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). He has 30 years of financial market experience covering the Australian, Asian and global equity markets. Tim has been a top-ranked equity research analyst and for many years was a managing director, head of equity research at Citigroup, as well as co-managing director of Arkx Investment Management P/L, a global listed clean energy investment company that was jointly owned by management and Westpac Banking Group.
Paul Burke is an economist and Associate Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. He has published extensively on energy demand and other topics in leading peer-reviewed journals and is convener of the Energy Economics & Policy research cluster at the ANU Energy Change Institute. He holds a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University.
Ariane Wilkinson, Senior Lawyer, EJA
As a lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia, Ariane uses her legal expertise to advise and act for communities impacted by fossil fuel extraction and the impacts of climate change, and advocates to reform Australia’s laws to make sure they protect the right of all Australians to clean air, clean water and a safe climate future.
How are these expert reports rigorous?
Each report is bound by the Harmonised Expert Witness Code of Conduct of the Federal Court of Australia and has complied with the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth). This means each is bound to provide an objective and impartial assessment from an expert with robust specialised knowledge in the field.
What were the methodologies used?
Each of these reports addresses different questions within different disciplines, and therefore each uses different methodologies made explicit in each report. All have a robust and extensive evidential basis and use accepted industry or academic-standard methods for their analyses of official data and peer-reviewed research.
Were these based on robust evidence?
The expert opinions are derived substantially from peer-reviewed research and statistical analysis of official datasets, and draw on the experts’ extensive experience in the areas of financial analysis, economics and climate science.
Why are these different to industry and government claims?
The expert opinions differ substantially from government and industry claims because they adhere to a higher standard of rigour than that used in policy, political statements and industry decision-making and provide expert views based on the latest peer-reviewed research. They also take into account new findings over the last five years since the mine was approved.