Climate change ‘not an emergency’: Queensland magistrate

Greg Rolles climbed a tripod structure to stop coal trains from getting to the Adani-owned Abbot Point coal terminal.

A Queensland magistrate has declared that climate change is not an extraordinary emergency, in finding an anti-Adani protester guilty of three charges related to his blockading of coal trains.

On May 28 Bowen magistrate Ron Muirhead found Greg Rolles, from Christian Climate Action Australia, guilty of climbing a tripod structure to stop coal trains from getting to the Adani-owned Abbot Point coal terminal on Juru country. He was fined $7000, plus $2500 restitution for Aurizon, just a few thousand dollars less than the $12,000 Adani was fined for breaching its licence and polluting the Great Barrier Reef.

Rolles had argued that he was not criminally liable for his protest because global warming presents an “extraordinary emergency”. It was the first time such a defence was used in an Australian courtroom.

In his defence Rolles called Professor Brendan Mackey, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mackey told the court: "There is now a substantial body of peer reviewed scientific research that points to the risks from current and future climate change impacts being shifted towards the top right corner of the risk matrix, i.e. extreme and dire levels of risks with more likely and severe consequences ...

"These impacts in turn have serious implications for the viability of key business sectors including farming and tourism, the capacity of emergency services, and growing financial risks ... 

"I conclude that there is sufficient scientific evidence to support the proposition that the human-forced climate change problem can be validly described from a scientific perspective as an extraordinary emergency."

However, Muirhead said: “Scientific data ... does not in any way require this court to accept that climate change would amount to an extraordinary emergency.”

Rolles said outside the court: “We are looking at appealing the severity of the fine, but whatever courts find … I will use all of my heart, my body and my mind to work for those being crushed by the injustice of this climate crisis.

“This story isn’t about me or this court case. This story is about the people suffering and dying from the effects of my country’s greed. All people who care and all people of faith need to be making this our life’s priority, or the generation coming now will pay for it.”

Rolles also suggested the government should take the $4 billion it currently supplies in coal and gas subsidies and use it to create jobs in Central Queensland.

“Make big mining companies pay proper tax and cut their subsidies,” he said. “The government can use that money to retrain workers in sustainable industries, or in education and tourism.”