04 April 2016
by Tim Elliott
Decision on coal mine 'defies reason'
"It defies reason": Coral expert Dr Charlie Veron.
The decision on Sunday to approve mining leases for Queensland's Carmichael coal mine is akin to "evil", according to one of the world's foremost marine scientists.
The latest aerial surveys of the Great Barrier Reef show extensive coral bleaching, causing scientists to have concern for the long-term health of the reef.
"It defies reason," said Dr Charlie Veron, former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. "I think there is no single action that could be as harmful to the Great Barrier Reef as the Carmichael coal mine."
The $21.7 billion project, which involves mine, rail and port facilities, would allow Indian multinational Adani to extract 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year from the Galilee Basin, in central Queensland. Adani claims the mine will generate 5000 jobs during construction and more than 4000 during operation, with construction to begin next year.
The decision to grant the leases came after "extensive government and community scrutiny", according to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
"I know the people of north and central Queensland will welcome this latest progress for the potential jobs and economic development it brings closer for their communities," she said.
But conservationists say the mine is an environmental disaster waiting to happen, citing particular risks to the Great Barrier Reef.
"It's an extraordinary decision, especially coming at a time when the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its worst ever coral bleaching event," Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said. "We know the bleaching is because of global warming, and Carmichael will only make that worse."
By Adani's own figures, the mine and its coal will emit more than 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. "The pollution from this mine is so big that it cancels the pollution cuts the Turnbull government committed to at the Paris Climate Summit," Ms O'Shanassy said.
The impact of such emissions could be terminal to the reef, according to Dr Veron. "The reef is obviously in dire straights, irrespective of what anyone says, and that's blindly obvious.
"There is extraordinary disconnect between science and the political action. Politicians think the mine is good because it's good for economy, but we are selling out the next generation of Australians as fast as we can go."
Dr Veron has devoted his life to studying coral reefs: he discovered more than 20 per cent of the world's coral species, and has been likened by Sir David Attenborough to a modern day Charles Darwin.
"Roughly a third of marine species have parts of their life cycle in coral reefs," Dr Veron said. "So if you take out coral reefs you have an ecological collapse of the oceans. It's happened before, mass extinctions through ocean acidification, and the main driver of that is CO2."
Dr Veron recently travelled to Canberra to talk to government about the decline in the reef. "The politicians do listen to scientists, but that is the worst part of it," he said. "If this was all done out of sheer ignorance, that is sort of understandable. It's like child porn – you might say you don't know it exists, but if you know it exists and you do everything to promote it, then that's evil."
The granting of the Carmichael leases coincides with increased concerns over threats to Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution, including sediments, nutrients and pesticides.
Australian Institute of Marine Science principal research scientist Dr Frederieke Kroon has told the ABC that government policies designed to keep the reef on UNESCO's World Heritage list are insufficient.
"Our review finds that current efforts are not sufficient to achieve the water quality targets set in the Reef 2050 Plan," she said.