After a judicial challenge against the environment minister’s decisions on two proposed coalmine expansions was rejected by the federal court, environmental advocacy organizations in Australia have stated that the country’s environmental laws need to be modified to include a climate trigger.
In the legal action that was brought forward by the Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ), also referred to as the living wonders case, it was alleged that the minister, Tanya Plibersek, had failed to protect the environment from climate harm when she decided that the projects could move on to the next stage of the federal assessment process.
The two mines in New South Wales were the intended extension of Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri underground coal project and the planned expansion of MACH Energy’s Mount Pleasant operations. Both mines were owned by MACH Energy.
The ECoCeQ had requested that Plibersek’s choices be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
The decision to throw out the case was made by Justice Shaun McElwaine on Wednesday afternoon. He came to the conclusion that the minister had not violated the terms of her position in any way.
According to McElwaine, it is up to the parliament to decide whether or not the minister is required to explicitly take climate change into account when making decisions in accordance with national environmental regulations.
Environmental Justice Australia, the legal representation for ECoCeQ, stated that unless the case was appealed against, the outcome “effectively clears the way for the minister to ignore climate change in her risk assessment of all new coal and gas projects on her desk.” This statement was made in the event that the case was not appealed against.
Christine Carlisle, the president of the ECoCeQ, stated that the members of the group appreciated the ruling made by the court, but that the members were “bitterly disappointed and alarmed by what this means for our living wonders.”
She stated, “I am alarmed that under our law as it currently stands, it is somehow not the job of our environment minister to protect our environment from the biggest threat – climate change from new gas and coal.” “I am alarmed that under our law as it currently stands, it is somehow not our environment minister’s job to protect our environment from the biggest threat.”
Elizabeth McKinnon, a lawyer at EJA and also a co-chief executive at the company, stated that the company’s client was weighing its legal options. “But regardless of what happens in the future, the decision made today does not alter the science.”
According to McElwaine’s opinion, the minister did not deny that the mining and burning of coal “unequivocally has contributed to climate change with severe adverse consequences for our climate.” McElwaine mentioned this in his conclusion. The verdict stated that the minister had also agreed that species, places, and ecosystems that are protected under Australia’s national laws were either already being affected by climate change or will be affected in the future.
The national organizer for the Lock the Gate Alliance, Carmel Flint, stated that the judgment proved that Australia’s environmental regulations were “fundamentally broken.”
“A climate trigger needs to be urgently legislated in national environment laws. This is the only genuine path forward at this time.”
According to her, there has been no conclusion reached about the legitimacy of the two projects as of yet. According to Plibsersek, the administration already has plans in place to combat climate change.
“Our strong new climate safeguard laws, developed with the Greens Party and independents, mean that coal and gas projects must comply with Australia’s commitment to net zero,” she said. “Our strong new climate safeguard laws were developed with the Greens Party and independents.”
In addition to that, she said that the government was “approving more renewable energy than ever before.” This included the approval that was given just this week for a battery project in Victoria that would be one of the largest in the world, and another approval that was given just recently for a solar farm in Townsville that would produce enough electricity for around 200,000 families.
By the end of this year, the government intends to make public a draft of the proposed legislation to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Despite the fact that there have been persistent calls for the rules to be altered in order to incorporate a climate trigger, the government has no plans to implement one, and a review of the act scheduled for the year 2020 did not include this as one of the suggestions.
The review instead recommended that proposed national environmental standards explicitly require developers to disclose the full emissions of the development and “consider the likely effectiveness of avoidance or mitigation measures on nationally protected matters under specified climate change scenarios.” This recommendation was made as a result of the fact that the review.
Sarah Hanson-Young, who is the spokesman for the Green Party on environmental issues, has urged Plibersek to support the climate trigger bill. “If you are willing to have that conversation in good faith, my door is always open.”