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picture of Professor Samantha Hepburn

Professor Samantha Hepburn

Samantha Hepburn is a Professor at the School of Law, Deakin University. She teaches and researches in the area of property and land law, as well as mining, energy and environmental law and has published books and articles in these areas.

Originally published in The Conversation on 16 October 2015.

Federal Minister Greg Hunt has reapproved the Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin, following the decision of the Federal Court in August to set it aside.

The statement of reasons sets out that potential impact such a mine might have on the integrity of the coral reef systems in the Great Barrier Reef cannot be proven given the distance between the mine and the reef. Some heed is given to water impacts and endangered species.

All advice from the independent scientific committee is to be implemented; conservation of threatened species is to be improved through the creation of a A$1 million research program and groundwater management and monitoring plans for water within the Doongmabulla Springs area are required.

In the statement the minister accounts for greenhouse gas emissions from building and running the mine, however concludes that accounting for emissions from burning the coal is “speculative”. It concludes that these emissions will be controlled under international regulations. Greenhouse gases were a significant aspect of the original Federal Court application by the Mackay Conservation Group.

In ignoring the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the coal (presumably on the formalistic basis that consideration is an indirect rather than an explicit requirement under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), the Federal Minister indicates his preparedness to completely disengage with global climate change imperatives. If we are to stay under 2°C of warming, coal is an obsolete resource.

The strategic issue for Australia (and the globe) is how to manage the termination of existing coal plants and accelerate the shift to lower carbon intensive energy sources.

Knowing what we do about the imperatives of climate change, approving a vast new coal plant on the eve of the Paris climate change talks, in complete disregard of its significant greenhouse gas implications, is unethical and, at a global level, indefensible.