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Federal Court’s ruling proves need for climate trigger

Today’s Federal Court decision exposes federal environment law as fundamentally flawed and demonstrates the need for a climate trigger so greenhouse gas emissions from large polluting projects are properly assessed when decisions are made.

The Court ruled against the “Living Wonders” challenge on two projects - Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground coal mine expansion and MACH Energy’s Mount Pleasant expansion.

Combined, the two coal projects would be responsible for more than one billion tonnes of greenhouse pollution. Narrabri Underground will be responsible for a total of 479 million tonnes of CO2-e (Ref PDF page 34), while Mount Pleasant will be responsible for a total of 876 million tonnes (Ref PDF Page 30).

The Environmental Council of Central Queensland, which, through its lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia, brought the Living Wonders case against the Federal Government, asked the Federal Court to consider these two projects separately in May this year after Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek refused to accept their climate impacts.

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Carmel Flint said, “The judgement today proves that Australia’s national environment laws are fundamentally broken.

“It shows our laws don’t address the biggest environmental problem the world is facing: climate change driven by coal and gas.

“More worrying is the fact that the Albanese Government has no plan to fix this massive blind spot in our laws, and has actively resisted opportunities to address it. 

“Communities in the Namoi and Hunter regions are now bracing for the Environment Minister to approve these two enormous coal projects without considering climate impacts, just as they face a brutal summer of climate-induced drought and fire.  

“The only genuine path forward now is to urgently legislate a climate trigger in national environment laws."

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter, who lives near Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground coal mine, said federal environmental laws were failing communities.

“Farmers in the Namoi Valley, including myself and my family, have been on a rollercoaster of extreme weather lately.  My son missed the first few weeks of school this time last year due to repeated major flood events. Our farm was under water. This year, he is undertaking his HSC in a declared drought and high fire danger season.  

“These events are made worse and more frequent by the massive levels of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere from gassy mines like the Narrabri Underground and it has to stop. I want my grandchildren to sit their HSC in a stable climate.

“Our existing federal environment laws are not equipped to take all this into account, and farmers are losing out.”

Denman, Aberdeen, Muswellbrook and Scone Healthy Environment Group Inc (DAMSHEG) president Wendy Wales said, “The Federal Government ought to be prioritising a safe climate for our children. We’ve already experienced enough climate impacts to recognise how difficult any mitigation is going to be, let alone to put a stop to global heating caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Separately, through the Environmental Defenders Office, DAMSHEG is challenging the NSW Independent Planning Commission’s approval of the Mt Pleasant coal project based on the impact it would have on a newly discovered species of legless lizard, its climate impact, and the increase it would be responsible for to already polluted Upper Hunter air.

“It’s really shocking to see the Albanese Government stand with coal companies like Whitehaven and MACH and against action to stop out of control climate change,” she said.

“This feels like an insult to Australians who voted loudly for climate action at the last federal election.  It’s time to immediately put the brakes on expanded fossil fuel production and shift to cheaper renewables that won’t cost us the earth.”


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