The federal Coalition has finally embraced the importance of scientific research – not on the existential threat of climate change or the enormous potential of renewable energy, mind, but to rush through an environmental approval for what would be the largest coal mine Australia has ever seen.
Federal environment minister Melissa Price said on Tuesday she had given her approval for the groundwater management plans for the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Infrastructure project planned by Indian conglomerate Adani Group for northern Queensland.
Price, uttering words almost certainly never before heard from the ranks of the current federal Coalition, said she had “accepted the scientific advice” of the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, that Adani’s revised plans met strict scientific requirements.
“Following this independent assessment and the Department of Environment and Energy’s recommendation for approval, I have accepted the scientific advice and therefore approved the groundwater management plans… under Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,” the minister said.
The green light from Price does not – as the minister herself went on to stress – amount to the final approval for the massive and controversial project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. A number of further approvals are required from the Queensland government, and it must meet “further stringent conditions of approval from the Commonwealth” before it can begin producing coal.
But it does clear another major hurdle for the hugely controversial project, which among other things has been described as a massive carbon bomb that would effectively cancel out the annual emissions reductions of Australia and New Zealand, many times over.
Indeed, the latest controversy around the coal mine comes amid reports Queensland LNP senator James McGrath threatened to call for the environment minister’s job if she did not give the all-clear on the groundwater management plans.
According to ABC Online, those reports have attracted the attention of environmental lawyers, who say it could open avenues for appeal if the project is approved before the federal election.
Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has sought to hose down those reports, however, citing the party’s new-found respect for all things science-based.
“Look, these processes can’t be political and they are not,” Taylor told Sky News. “They are ultimately about good policy. You’ve got to do the scientific work.
“All sides of this debate at times want to make it political, but it can’t be. It is scientific.”
What is also scientific is last October’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, warning that the internationally accepted goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is drifting rapidly and dangerously out of reach.
That report – which was more than three years in the making, via more than 91 authors and editors who reviewed more than 6000 scientific papers and 42,000 comments – had a particularly clear message about coal.
“It’s very clear that in the scenarios of pathways that we have assessed in this report, that coal use goes down very, very substantially by the middle of the 21st Century,” IPCC co-chair Jim Skea said at the time.
“This is an essential component of any of the transitions that you would need to keep global warming within 1.5°C with either no, or limited overshoot.”
Even the International Energy Agency agrees; its 2017 Energy Technology Perspectives report conclusding coal has no future without carbon capture and storage, and only a limited one with it. And that under the 2°C scenario (higher than that recommended by the IPCC), all unabated coal must be phased out by 2045.
Oliver Yates – the former CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation who is challenging Josh Frydenberg in his Victorian electorate of Kooyong – said this latest Adani mine approval showed the Coalition’s true stripes on matters of climate and the environment.
“Today takes the cake,” Yates said in a media statement. “We’ve seen an insurgent group of LNP members fight to give this mega mine even more special treatment.
“Over the last week, members of the hard right of the Liberal Party have been bullying the Environment Minister in the media to rush through the final approvals of the Adani mine.
“This stinks of bullying, intimidation and poor process,” he said. “This decision threatens millions of litres of precious groundwater. The mine, when the coal is burned, will threaten the Great Barrier Reef and cause runaway climate change.