The Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO), on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), lodged an appeal on September 19 against the Federal Court’s finding in August that then-environment minister Greg Hunt’s approval of Adani’s Carmichael coalmine was lawful.
The appeal challenges the lawfulness of the court’s finding that the minister was entitled to find the impact on global warming and the Great Barrier Reef from the Carmichael mine’s 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions was “speculative”.
CEO of EDO Jo Bragg said: “This is a critical moment in the history of protecting Australia’s environment. Law is a sharp tool and, if we win this case, together we will set an historic precedent. The Federal government will no longer be able to ignore the damage to our climate caused by destructive dirty coal mines.”
The president of the ACF Geoff Cousins said: “We don’t accept that our federal environment minister has the right to ignore the impact 4.6 billion tonnes of climate pollution will have on our Great Barrier Reef, just because it’s too hard to measure.
“If our environment laws are too weak to actually protect Australia’s unique species and places, they effectively give companies like Adani a licence to kill.”
The appeal comes after a new report produced by the ACF and the EDO examined the Adani decision and whether the environmental protections offered by Australia’s laws actually protected the environment.
One of the conditions imposed on the project by Hunt was the protection of the critically endangered black-throated finch. Because the Adani mine will bulldoze the best remaining habitat for the black-throated finch, Hunt imposed conditions on the approval, saying that Adani must “offset” that loss.
The argument that offsets — which involve the protection of other remaining habitats — could help the birds is debatable at best, since if those other habitats were adequate, the birds would already be there.
But the new report points out that the offsets do not even need to be created before Adani bulldozes the existing habitat.
The report said: “Perhaps most extraordinarily, should the impact on the finch from the mine be greater than expected, Adani is not required to take further action or make good the unexpected harm.”
The report also examined how the existing environmental laws protect the Great Barrier Reef. It said the mine would cause 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to be added to the atmosphere, mostly through the burning of the coal it produces, which would accelerate global warming, which is the greatest risk to the future of the Great Barrier Reef.
But the Federal Court found the environment minister did not need to consider the effects of burning the coal dug out of the mine. The report said this revealed a failure in the strength of the law.
“For a law that sets out to protect Australia’s environment, the failure to protect our most treasured ecosystem from its greatest threat is alarming,” it said.
The ACF is calling for a new generation of environmental laws that protect critical habitats for threatened species, that halt projects until information about the scale of the impacts is known, and that explicitly deal with impacts on the climate.
They have also called for laws that allow environmental approvals to be challenged in court on their merits. Currently, they can only be challenged by claiming the minister did not follow the correct legal processes.