Press Release - October 11, 2023

Living Wonders judgment shows Australia’s environment laws are failing us in the climate crisis

OCTOBER 11, 2023

Scientists and environment groups are bitterly disappointed by the Federal Court’s decision to dismiss two landmark climate cases against Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and two coal mining companies and are calling for urgent reforms to Australia’s environment laws.

Justice McElwaine today dismissed the Living Wonders climate cases – the first court challenges to a coal or gas decision made by Australia’s current Environment Minister.

Unless it is appealed, today’s judgment effectively clears the way for the Minister to ignore climate change in her risk assessment of all new coal and gas projects on her desk – of which there are 25.

The Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ), represented by Environmental Justice Australia, had sought judicial review of the Minister’s climate risk assessment of two giant coal mines in NSW: Narrabri and Mount Pleasant.

ECoCeQ is today considering all legal options including full Federal Court appeals and urgent Court injunctions.

Mining companies, Narrabri Coal Operations (a subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal) and MACH Energy, joined the Minister in defending her refusal to act on the scientific evidence of climate risk.

The International Energy Agency is unequivocal: “there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year” because the development of “new oil and gas fields is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C.

President of the Environment Council of Central Queensland, Christine Carlisle said:

“Of course, we respect the Court’s important role today, but we are bitterly disappointed and alarmed by what this means for our living wonders.

After today’s Court decision, Minister Plibersek might rush to approve new coal mines and gas wells. 

Two big fossil fuel companies stood by Minister Plibersek’s legal team every day in Court and defended her refusal to act on climate harm.

Those mining companies might be celebrating tonight. But there is no way a responsible government could call this a win. It’s a devastating loss for us all.

I am horrified that under our law as it currently stands, it is somehow not our Environment Minister’s job to protect our environment from the biggest threat – climate change from new gas and coal.

She may try to argue she’s just following the law. But it’s her law. If our laws are failing in a crisis, it’s her job to fix it.  And, until then, she must put a pause on all new coal and gas approvals.”

EJA Co-Ceo Elizabeth McKinnon said:

“This is an important judgment, and we will study it carefully.

Our client is considering all legal options, including full Federal Court appeals and injunctions.

Our client is awaiting an assurance from the Minister that she will not rush to approve these and the other pending coal and gas projects on her desk while our client considers its appeal rights.

But whatever happens next, today’s decision does not change the science. Nobody, not the Australian Government or the coal mining companies, challenged the facts set out in the thousands of pages of climate evidence.

You don’t need to be a lawyer or a scientist to know that, whatever our old laws say, climate change is relevant to coal and gas approvals.”

The mines:

Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension Project: A subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal plans to extend underground mining operations at the Narrabri thermal coal mine until 2044.

Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project: MACH Energy plans to expand open cut thermal coal extraction in the Hunter Valley until almost 2050, making it the largest open cut coal mine in NSW.

If you have a media enquiry, please call or email Jem Wilson, 03 8341 3110, [email protected]