Giant Xstrata Coal Mine Challenged Over Climate Change Impacts

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A GIANT mine planned in Queensland, Australia, is facing a court challenge over the impacts that burning its coal will have on rising sea-levels, global temperatures and ocean acidification.

The Swiss-owned mining company Xstrata wants to extract about 30 million tonnes of coal a year for the next 30 years from the mine next to the small township of Wandoan.

According to figures from Xstrata, once all emissions are counted for the life of the mine – including the burning of the coal – some 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere.

The mine would be the state’s largest and one of the biggest in the southern hemisphere in a country which is already the world’s leading coal exporter. The mining lease covers 32,000 hectares (123 sq miles).

Environment group Friends of the Earth Brisbane is challenging the mine’s lease and environmental authority, already granted conditionally by the Queensland State Government, in the state’s land court.

As the case started, FoE spokesperson Bradley Smith said the case was one of “David v Goliath”. 

Taking on a billion dollar monolith like Xstrata is no mean feat, however it’s a fight worth having.  The slow creeping impacts from climate change will have a significant impact on Australia’s future; establishing new mines and burning more fossil fuels is a backward step for our country.

Ten local landholders are also objecting to the mine on several grounds, including the effects of dust, vibration, potential water contamination, effects on cattle and health.

Xstrata is defending it’s applications to mine the site, saying it takes its responsibility to reduce it’s climate chnage footprint “seriously”.

Several high-profile key witnesses are scheduled to appear on behalf of FoE, who will argue the mine’s impact will be measurable on a global scale.

A statement already filed to the court comes from Dr Malte Meinhausen, a leading climate researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.

The statement says emissions from the single mine will be enough to flood an additional 23,000 homes around the world by the year 2080. 

Because the mine is focussed on exporting the coal to burn in power stations in Asia, FoE points out the emissions are not counted against Australia’s greenhouse accounts.

Dr Meinhausen’s statement says the emissions from the mine are equal to about three years of emissions from the entire country.

Another expert witness, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, is currently a co-ordinating lead author for a chapter on the impacts of climate change on oceans for the next Inter-government Panel on Climate Change assessment report.

Prof Hoegh-Guldberg’s statement to the court says the mine’s emissions will impact the Great Barrier Reef, in terms of raising global temperatures and increasing ocean acidification.

The environment group wants the court to recommend the state Government refuse the mine’s lease and the environmental authority, which have already been conditionally granted.

The FoE climate change arguments are set to be heard in court on week two of the hearing, which is scheduled to conclude on 2 September.

Pic: Xstrata media library.

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