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Bushfire survivors vow to keep fighting for climate-vulnerable communities after court upholds Whitehaven coal mine expansion

The Land and Environment Court has ruled the Independent Planning Commission’s approval of the Narrabri Coal Mine expansion was legally reasonable even though the project will emit the equivalent of Australia’s total annual CO2 emissions. [1]

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, had sought a judicial review of the IPC’s April 2022 approval of the Whitehaven Coal project. [2]

Bushfire survivor and BSCA spokesperson Fiona Lee said: “We are disappointed by the outcome. Sadly, this shows that planning decisions today are out of step with community expectations because approving high emitting projects is exposing communities to more extreme impacts from climate change.

“We have a moral obligation as climate survivors to challenge dangerous and polluting planning decisions that are not in the public interest, to try and prevent other people from going through what we've endured,” Ms Lee said.

“We believe it is unreasonable for planning authorities to approve projects with such a massive climate footprint at a time when greenhouse gas emissions must be rapidly reduced to limit the devastating impacts of global warming.”

The Narrabri coal mine expansion will generate 480Mt CO2-e in emissions, roughly equal to Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 (487Mt CO2-e), and includes some of the longest (10km) and widest (400m) underground longwalls in Australia.

Even if we accept the argument that these Scope 3 emissions should be accounted for by the countries that burn the coal, this is a highly methane polluting mine, releasing 32Mt CO2-e in Scope 1 emissions. The IPC accepted this but relied upon the hope of future, uncertain technology to reduce methane levels.

BSCA has been at the cutting edge of legal reform to reduce climate emissions and hold governments, agencies and companies to account.

Earlier this year, the NSW Environment Protection Agency was the first such agency in the country to introduce a climate policy, which it was required to do as a result of landmark court action taken by BSCA.

“Climate litigation is gruelling but necessary work in chipping away at the causes of climate change, and I’m proud to have stood up for survivors like my family and my neighbours,” Ms Lee said.

“We shouldn’t have to do this work – our governments should be protecting our communities from the worst impacts of climate change including worsening bushfires and they can start by removing assumed support for coal extraction from out of date NSW climate policies including the Strategic Statement on Coal and the Net Zero Plan.”

EDO Director Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said: “There is a huge body of scientific evidence that says we must leave coal and gas in the ground to maintain a liveable planet. Approving more coal mines flies in the face of all the evidence.

“The climate crisis has already begun, and Australians everywhere are highly vulnerable to its impacts.

“The IPC heard that more than 30 people died during the Black Summer bushfires, some 3,000 people lost their homes, and more than 400 people lost their lives in the immediate aftermath due to smoke inhalation.

“Yet the commission still made the very dangerous decision to approve a further coal expansion in NSW on the basis that the mine was in the ‘public interest’.

“This case clearly demonstrates that our planning laws urgently need to be amended to reflect the reality that coal expansions are now completely incompatible with ensuring the health, safety and security of Australians.

BSCA are carefully considering the Court’s judgement.

Source: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, 4 July 2023

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