Mega coal mines threaten Great Barrier Reef

by Guest Blogger

March 16, 2012

BlogpostbyJohn Hepburn, Greenpeace Australia
Save the Great Barrier Reef

Tom Jefferson/Greenpeace

In our campaign to stop dangerous climate change, Greenpeace is taking on one of the most urgent issues: the enormous expansion of coal mining and coal exports from Australia. Not only does coal expansion spell disaster for our global climate but it threatens one of the worlds most precious treasures, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Galilee Basin, located in the heart of Queensland, is the site of a series of proposed mega mines that could see Australias coal exports more than double within a decade. Enormous coal mines mean enormous amounts of carbon pollution and supporting infrastructure including at least one rail line and multiple massive port terminals. Australia is on the brink of turning the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area into an industrial estate.

Greenpeace documented the impacts of the coal expansion plans inBoom goes the Reef,a report released March 1, 2012. Impacts include:

  • Six times more coal ships travelling through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
  • Six-fold increase in coal port capacity along the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This includes the development of Abbott Point port, which would become three times larger than any other coal port in the world. The Australian Government is set to approve this port within weeks.
  • 113 million cubic meters of dredging in the World Heritage Area due to industrial expansion. This proposed dredging would destroy vital marine habitat, including habitat for endangered Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles.

The report was released, and supported by acreative action, to coincide with the visit of the World Heritage custodians from UNESCO who are concerned about the impacts of development on the reef. Under pressure, the Australian and Queensland Governments announced a strategic assessment to understand the impacts on the reef. Were urging these governments to not approve any major coastal developments while this strategic assessment is being done.

Our campaign has clearly hit a nerve. On the eve of UNESCOs visit, a confidential draft of a campaign proposal to challenge the increasingly reckless expansion of the coal industry found its way into the hands of the coal industry and two national newspapers and received widespread coverage. Three days of front-page stories in the national press followed.

We have faced a massive and hysterical backlash from the mining industry and several Australian politicians (including the Prime Minister, the Trade Minister, the Energy Minister and the Environment Minister) who made absurd claims in their attacks on our campaign. Rio Tinto is calling us economic vandals‘, the Minerals Council of Australia claim we are attacking Australia’s‘national interest‘, the Treasurer declared that we were “irrational“,“deeply irresponsible”and “destructiveand the Minister for Trade has accused us of driving mass starvation.

The real reason for their outrage was summed up in the front page of the Australian Financial Review As one leading mining executive said last night: “This is a highly professional document that expresses a thorough understanding of the drivers of mining investment.” and as another coal veteran observed, the concert outlined in this pitch represents a long-awaited industry nightmare.

The coal industry knows that it is fighting a losing battle against popular opinion, against the falling cost of renewable energy and most significantly against the future.

The rich and powerful mining industry will throw everything it has to crush this campaign. They are protecting their huge profits. We are protecting the Great Barrier Reef and the long-term stability of our climate. And we are standing alongside local communities, farmers and grassroots environmental groups to do so. If there ever was a David and Goliath battle, this is it.

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