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Not my job: Environment Minister says climate science is not relevant to new coal and gas approvals

Community and environment groups are outraged by Minister Tanya Plibersek’s decision to dismiss the climate harm of three huge new coal and gas proposals on Australia’s nationally significant places, plants and animals.

The small volunteer group, Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ), and their legal team Environmental Justice Australia, launched the Living Wonders legal intervention in July last year, compelling the Minister to reconsider 19 coal and gas proposals because of their climate risk.

ECoCeQ is considering all legal options including a Federal Court challenge and any injunctions needed.

The legal intervention asked the Minister to properly assess the climate impacts of new coal and gas mines on 2121 nationally significant species, places, and ecological communities. This includes iconic animals like koalas and turtles, as well as World and National Heritage areas like the Great Barrier Reef, the Tarkine and Kakadu.

The Minister has dismissed the Living Wonders reconsideration request relating to the Mount Pleasant open cut coal mine by MACH Energy Australia in NSW, the Narrabri Coal mine expansion by Whitehaven Coal, and the Ensham coal mine life extension in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.

The Minister also proposed to approve the new Isaac River coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, which was not subject to the Living Wonders legal challenge.

What’s clear is that the decision is fundamentally out of step with the global scientific consensus that the digging up and burning of any new coal and gas is the single biggest cause of further climate change, with catastrophic risks to our environment.

The Minister has a responsibility to scrutinise the immense and indisputable climate harm that all new coal and gas proposals pose to Australia’s environment, not just the immediate local impact.

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.”

Yet the Minister has decided today to reject the global scientific consensus on the vast and irreversible harm from coal and gas on our environment.

ECoCeQ President Christine Carlisle said:

“Today’s decision means Minister Plibersek joins a long line of Federal Environment Ministers who have said it’s not their job to consider the climate risk of new coal and gas mines.

We’re already dealing with floods, bushfires, and droughts and the evidence shows these new coal and gas proposals will make the devastation much, much worse.

This is the real test for the Minster. Australians who voted in favour of climate action have a right to feel betrayed by these decisions. We want our kids and our grandkids to be able to experience our living wonders.”

Environmental Justice Australia, Senior Lawyer, Retta Berryman:

“Our client is carefully considering all legal options in light of today’s decision – including one or more Federal Court challenges.

This decision only strengthens our client’s resolve to make sure that environmental law in Australia accounts for the reality of climate change.

This is about more than setting a precedent – it’s about protecting the plants, animals and places we know and love from extinction.

It is utterly incomprehensible that the Minister has chosen to ignore thousands of scientific reports including hundreds by her own department, as well as the unequivocal scientific consensus from the IPCC. The science is clear.”

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Find out more about the Living Wonders challenge.

Whitehaven's Destructive Coal Expansion.

Coal Mine Tracker (Mines waiting for approval)

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