Why is Australia a coal miner’s favorite?
Every state in Australia has coal deposits, with the largest resources being in Queensland and New South Wales. It is the second-largest global exporter, behind Indonesia. In 2019, it exported 393 million tonnes of coal worldwide, almost 70% of its production.
It is not looked at fondly by climate activists and environmental groups. Australia experienced one of its driest summers in 2020 and eventually went through a series of forest fires. Carbon mining is one of the major causes of increasing greenhouse gases in the country. As a result, the world is looking at Australia’s climate initiatives with scrutiny.
Coal mining is the biggest employment generating sector of the mineral industry in Australia. Still, it has many adverse lasting effects on the health of people and the environment. It causes pollution, soil degradation and releases harmful toxins into the water bodies. Later, when these toxins enter the human body and aquatic life, the effects are disastrous.
Let us find out a little about the Adani Group.
Gautam Adani is the second richest man in India. The Adani Group has made its name in infrastructure development, energy, transportation, logistics, and more. The group is known to mine coal deposits and establish railway lines to transport them. In Australia, it proposed mining in the Carmichael coal mine, which stretches over 30 kilometers.
The proposal included developing a 189-kilometer railway line connecting the mine to the existing Hay Point and Abbot Point coal terminals, which are to be expanded. The project involves the construction of a private Adani airstrip in Townsville. The mine will be open for 60 years and produce 60 million tonnes of coal annually, most exported to India.
Why do Australians want to Stop Adani?
Apart from the obvious reasons, here are the five reasons that the Stop Adani campaign of Australia points out:
- His project will destroy the land, water, and culture of the indigenous people living in the region. There is no consent of the local Wangan and Jagalingou people.
- The Adani Group is not trustworthy because their companies have a record of environmental destruction and prosecutions for illegal dealings, bribery, social and ecological devastation, and corruption, fraud, and money laundering allegations.
- Burning more coal will lead to extreme weather conditions that will further aggravate the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.
- The project will draw billions of liters of water to the mines from the Great Artesian and other basins for free, which will decline the groundwater levels in Australia.
Projected Environmental Impacts
Environmentalists have predicted massive impacts. The mine will be one of the largest coal mines globally, with an estimated production of 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon pollution throughout its lifetime. The expansion of the ports planned along the Reef coastline at Abbot Point includes over a million cubic meters of the seafloor.
It will threaten the habitat of the native vulnerable dugongs, turtles, and dolphins. More coal ships will travel through the reef’s waters. One collision is enough to create a spill resulting in an environmental catastrophe in the Great Barrier Reef.
Adani exceeded the permitted pollution discharge limit to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by more than 800 percent at the Port of Abbot Point. Spilt coal-laden water was disposed into the neighboring Caley Valley Wetlands and onto the beach next to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Aside from having one of the world’s greatest high-quality coal reserves, the Galilee basin is home to uncommon species such as the yakka skink, decorative snake, and waxy cabbage palm. The mining operation will have a significant impact on the ecosystem, putting native wildlife at risk.
Here is what the Climate Council’s Chief Councillor, Professor Tim Flannery, said about the Australian government’s project approval.
“How dare this government give its stamp of approval to this appalling project. This project doesn’t stack up economically, Australians don’t want it and none of the major banks will back it. It’s the exact opposite of responsible climate policy. Fortunately, there’s still time to stop this insanity.
The proposed mine in the Galilee Basin has the potential to be a carbon bomb. It poses serious risks to the environment, public health and North Queensland tourism,” said Professor Flannery.
“If all the coal in the Galilee Basin was burned, it is estimated that 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide would be released each year. That’s more than 1.3 times Australia’s current annual emissions. Australia’s pollution has been going up year on year. How can the Federal Government justify a polluting mine like Adani when the world needs action on climate change? Burning coal drives climate change and Australians are already feeling the impact.
We’ve just lived through an Angry Summer with temperature records smashed and bushfires ravaging rainforests. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground and continue the transition to clean energy with renewables and storage technology,” he added.
In addition to the climate impacts, the project, in general, faced many financial setbacks. The project was initially expected to cost AU$16 billion, but in 2018 it was reduced to AU$2 billion and announced that it would be self-funded. Many leading global coal finance banks, including BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale, Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs Group, HSBC Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Royal Bank of Scotland, turned down funding requests.
Three insurance companies, AXA XL, Liberty Mutual, and HDI, denied renewal of the project’s insurance after its expiry in 2021. Aspen Insurance and Apollo, a Lloyd’s of London business, also made similar statements.
However, the State Bank of India and the Adani Group signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015 for a $1 billion loan to build the project. In reaction, Amundi, a French asset management business, warned SBI that if it decides to fund the coal mine project, one of its green bonds will be removed from the flagship Amundi Planet Emerging Green One portfolio. The loan still went through.
Recently, after demonstrators targeted Samsung over its ties to the Carmichael project, Samsung Securities, the investment arm of Samsung, also halted financial backing provisions for the project.
Despite all of this, Adani celebrated his 59th birthday on the 24th of June, 2020, with the news of the Carmichael mine’s first coal finds. “Proud of my tenacious team who mined Carmichael’s ‘first coal’ in the face of heavy odds. There couldn’t be a better birthday gift than being able to strengthen our nation’s energy security and provide affordable power to India’s millions. Thank you, Queensland and Australia,” he tweeted.
The Australian Government’s Role
Amid protests and loss of funding, the mine still saw the light of day because of the strong support from the Australian Federal Government. This government supports fossil fuels because it is the largest employment generator and biggest export industry in Australia. Profits from coal exports have helped Australia become the second most prosperous country globally in terms of wealth distribution per adult.
Also, the Adani Group promised to create 10,000 jobs over its lifetime. However, during one of the court cases against the Adani Group, their lawyer admitted that the mine would only create 1,464 full-time jobs.
However, the Australian public is against fossil fuels. They favor renewable energy, and this is evident in the fact that in 2016, it became the country having the highest installations of residential solar buildings, with up to 30% of households buying their solar panels.
Many Australian citizens have accused the government of corruption as well. They came together to form the Stop Adani campaign. It is the biggest people-powered environmental campaign in Australia. Through community leadership and grassroots movements, this campaign was able to stir political agendas. It made the Carmichael project a significant issue in the 2017 Queensland state election.
The movement has already stopped Australia’s big four banks and 55 international financiers from funding the project. It is not easy, but people are trying, which is a great positive sign for the environment. The project received all government clearances but continues to face hindrances from the federal court and the public.
Cheaper energy, guaranteed employment, and established transportation links sound promising, but the cost at which we are receiving all of that matters. Continuing to use fossil fuels for 60 more years will restrict us from achieving sustainability. It will take the environmentally friendly movements a hundred steps behind in an instant. We are presently facing the consequences of our anti-climate actions in many different forms.
The entire world is facing it as a whole. So, all sectors, including business, administration, government, and people, must come together to design better solutions and stop implementing the ones proven to be disastrous. It might be challenging to take a side when the stakes are high and so many political implications are involved. However, the journey to finding a sustainable solution must not stop.
People should continue to raise their voices, and governments must make the environment a central issue of political discussion.
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