Former Great Barrier Reef Head Calls for Ban on New Coal Mines to Protect the Reef

by Perry Wheeler

November 21, 2016

Sydney, Australia – Australia’s former leading authority on the Great Barrier Reef has called for a stop on the construction of any new coal mines in Australia, sounding the alarm on coral bleaching, rising sea temperatures, and further damage on the Reef. The call comes just days after nations met in Morocco for COP22 to hammer out plans to implement the Paris Agreement.

“Australia cannot have a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a continuing coal industry,” Kelleher said. “This year was a wake-up call for everyone that Australia has to step up when it comes to protecting the Reef and a ban on new coal mines would be a necessary first step.”

Graeme Kelleher was the first Chairperson and Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), a government organisation dedicated to the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Kelleher held the position for 16 years.

The call for a ban on new coal mines comes ahead of the deadline (December 1) for the Australian government to report back to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, over its handling of the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the ‘canary in the coal mine’, and right now it’s telling us the climate is sick,” said Shani Tager, Greenpeace Australia Pacific Reef campaigner.

“In a world where climate extremes and droughts are becoming more common, governments across the world need to halt all new fossil fuel projects, and urgently shift investment to water efficient wind and solar power.”

Recent economic modelling by the Australia Institute found a ban on new coal mines would almost have no impact on the Australian economy [1], not to mention the benefits of transitioning to 100% renewable power. The coal industry – the biggest single source of emissions – is heading for a terminal decline worldwide. Renewable growth will continue to disrupt the fossil fuel industry: China is growing its economy while reducing its coal consumption, and solar in India has already become cheaper than coal [2].

In September, the Australian government claimed it had made “good progress” [3] in protecting the Great Barrier Reef during the previous 12 months, despite 22% of the Reef’s coral being killed in the worst coral bleaching event in history.

The Australian government has promised to ensure protection of the Reef, but it has also made a number of controversial decisions in defiance of the Paris climate agreement that endanger the Reef. In October 2015, it granted approval to a huge expansion of coal mining in Australia, including the world’s largest new coal mine Carmichael coal mine in Queensland [3].

“It’s not right for this government to pat itself on the back and claim it’s protecting the Reef when nearly a quarter of its coral was killed this year,” said Kelleher [7].

Kelleher is an international specialist in marine parks, has authored several major books and reports on marine environments and was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia honor. He will endorse a new petition with Greenpeace Australia Pacific, calling for a ban on new coal mines.

Notes to editors:
[1] Coal’s death would not kill economy. ABC News. 16/09/2016.
[2] ‘2015: The year global coal consumption fell off a cliff’, here; Background on China’s coal consumption, here; Indian solar cheaper than coal, here.
[3] Reef 2050 plan annual report 2015-16. Australian Government.
[4] A timeline of the actions of the government during this time period can be found here (pdf).
[5] Details about Graeme Kelleher, Ocean Elders biography, Curriculum vitae ahead of the Order of Australia honor
[6] Timeline of Australian government’s actions during this submission period available here
[7] “Nearly a quarter of the Reef killed” – reference here.

Media contact:
Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)
Liam Kelly, Media Officer, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, phone: (+61) 2 9263 0320, (+61) 407 742025 (Sydney), email: [email protected]

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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