The Australian government has just given the approval for the expansion of a controversial port in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. When built, it’s expected that up to 120 million tonnes (132 million tons) of coal a year will pass through the port, and through the world’s largest coral reef system. The decision comes just a few weeks after the heads of state for over 190 countries, including Australia, met in Paris to agree on a climate deal to limit global warming to below 2°C (3.2°F), and endeavor to keep it under 1.5°C (2.7°F).
The expansion will require the dredging of 1.1 million meters3 (2.4 million feet3) of sediment and sand right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, at a place known as Abbot Point. While the original plan was to dump these spoils at sea, a proposal heavily criticized for the damage it would do by smothering parts of the reef, the new plan will see it dumped on industrial land a stone’s throw from an “internationally significant” wetland.
The approval of the dredging comes two months after the government gave the go-ahead for the construction of the $12.1 billion (Aus $16.5 billion) Carmichael project, which will be one of the biggest mines in the world when completed. The coal mine will be located in the same region of Queensland as the newly-expanded port, and is intended to feed India’s growing demand for fossil fuel.
The minister for environment, Greg Hunt, has defended the move to greenlight the controversial Carmichael mine, by maintaining that it is better for the environment for India to be using “good quality” Australian coal. “If they didn't have Australian participation... they would be using lower quality fuel,” explained Hunt to ABC radio. “So with lower quality fuel and lower efficiency [power] stations, the net global impact of not using Australian fuels would be for emissions to go up, not down.” Hunt has also previously defended the country's stance in tackling climate change, saying that Australians “should be proud” of the nation’s efforts.
The project to both build the coal mine and expand the port has been met with much resistance, especially in the face of a growing trend to move away from the fossil fuel industry, as laid out in the historic Paris climate talks earlier this year. With demand for coal dipping in China for the first time ever, pledges by the Indian government to increase investment in solar power, and plunging coal prices, major European and U.S. banks have refused to fund the project.
“Over the past 12 months we’ve seen more and more banks abandon the sinking ship that is the Carmichael Coal Mine, which if built will feed the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion,” said Louise Matthiesson, spokesperson for the WWF Australia. “Why risk building a port that will become a ‘white elephant,’ that will damage the homes of dugongs and turtles, for a mine that might never be built?”
Main image: Tom Jefferson/Greenpeace