HG Alert: Queensland Conservation Council Failed to Stop Newlands Coal Mine Expansion - Feb 2007

The Queensland Conservation Council has failed in its attempt to stop the Newlands Coal Mine expansion on grounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

The QCC recently objected to an application by Xstrata Coal to expand its Newlands Coal Project. The QCC's four main objections were largely related to greenhouse gas emissions and were particularised as follows:

  1. the mine will cause adverse environmental impacts;
  2. the mine will prejudice the public right and interest;
  3. there are good reasons to refuse to grant the mining lease; and
  4. the mine is not consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

To support its objections, the QCC argued that each of these factors would be contravened unless conditions were imposed upon Xstrata to avoid, reduce or offset the emissions of greenhouse gases that are likely to result from the mining, transport and use of the coal from the mine. The implications of this are far reaching as it would not only require a relevant consideration of greenhouse gas emissions but would impose considerable obligations upon a coal miner to account for its own emissions and take measures to reduce them.

The QCC led evidence in an attempt to show a causal link between human activities and climate change. A number of witnesses in particular relied on the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which recently received significant media coverage.

In his decision, President Koppenol acknowledged the assertions made in the Stern Review and the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In addition to this, he also gave weight to criticisms published by Professor Robert Carter and Professor Sir Ian Byatt. Not only did he question the accuracy of a number of reports relied upon by QCC's witnesses, but President Koppenol queried the magnitude of global warming itself, when he noted:

"With all respect, a temperature increase of only about 0.45 degrees Celsius over 55 years seems a surprisingly low figure upon which to base the IPCC's concerns about its inducing many serious changes in the global climate system during the 21st century."

In response to the QCC's submission that the Tribunal should consider ESD principles "to mitigate the serious environmental degradation caused by global warming", President Koppenol arrived at the following conclusions:

  • There exists a lack of causation between the greenhouse gas emissions of the Newlands Coal Mine and any "serious environmental degradation" caused by global warming and climate change.
  • The volume of emissions emitted by the mine, on a global scale, is negligible. Therefore, even complete elimination of emissions from the mine would only have a minimal effect on global warming or climate change.

In addition, President Koppenol decided not to impose any conditions to avoid, reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions on the basis that the imposition of such conditions would adversely impact upon the economic and social health of Queensland.

It was on this basis that the Tribunal did not accept the four main objections presented by the QCC. Therefore, the Tribunal made the following recommendations to the Minister for Mines and Energy:

  • This additional surface area application be granted in whole without any of the conditions sought by the objectors; and
  • The related environmental authority (mining lease) application be granted on the basis of the draft environmental authority for the application, without any of the conditions sought by the objectors.