The ports are on the cards because a handful of wealthy mining executives are clamouring to open up the nine new mega-mines in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The scale of destruction these mines will cause has even the likes of shock jock Alan Jones scratching his head. On Monday on 2GB, Jones labelled the Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin “a sell-out of the environment and Australia's future for short-term gain.”
If the Reef destruction wasn’t bad enough, the ports will export coal, contributing up to 525 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. That’s almost as much as Australia’s total domestic emissions.
Given the stark recent warnings from the World Bank and the International Energy Association (IEA) on climate change, Australia can't afford to increase coal exports any more.
When Greenpeace and Alan Jones agree on something, you know it’s a big deal.
The recent World Bank report - Turn Down the Heat – spelled it out. Bank President, Jim Yong Kim describes four degrees of global warming as “what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes.” Kim is also unequivocal in his assessment of what that degree of warming means for us all:
The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.
Time to choose
We could read these reports, and feel like the disasters they bring are a destiny not a choice.
But the pathway to four degrees is a choice we are making, and there is no greater emblem of that choice than the development of three new coal terminals at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Development of the scale proposed by Hancock Coal, Adani Corporation and BHP Billiton at Abbot Point is completely incompatible with the World Heritage Values. It directly contravenes the request made by the World Heritage Committee in June that Australia not permit development that would impact on the area’s outstanding universal value, defined as “… natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.”
Nothing to see here
Documents obtained by Greenpeace from the federal environment department describe Abbot Point as having an “unparalleled aerial vista” and a “rich variety of land and seascapes.” The coal companies, however, say that the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef is “not expressed at all at Abbot Point.”
More insidiously, the approvals for the coal ports and mines are going ahead without even mentioning their contribution to climate change.
The Cumulative Impact Assessment of Abbot Point is no exception.
Since the coal is going overseas, according to the Australian Government and the coal companies, the emissions apparently don’t count. They are somebody else’s problem.
Kind of like exporting cluster bombs…
But this is a problem which affects us all. Climate change doesn’t stay overseas. It’s everybody’s problem no matter where the coal is burned.
Increasing the volume of coal exported from Australia is incompatible with global efforts to avoid dangerous levels of warming. With such little time left to secure a global peak and decline in greenhouse gas emissions, the recalcitrant refusal of coal companies to cease their push to expand coal production is negligent and irresponsible.
Our role is to stop them getting away with it. And we will. Across this country, we will make it too big for politicians to sweep under the carpet. You can just start with signing our petition. If you’ve done that, send Environment Minister Tony Burke an email. If you’ve done that, then become a Reef Defender. Whatever you do, do something!
In 2013 we will make this happen , because… ahem… to once again quote Mr Jones… ‘we must not sell out our environment for short-term gain.’
1 World Bank Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, November 2012.
2 UNESCO. July 2012. Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. http://whc.unesco.org/archive/opguide12-en.pdf
3 Abbot Point CIA. Chapter 11, p13