Australia approval of vast coal mine ‘evil’ says marine scientist

Greens, scientists brand leases for $22bn Adani mine irresponsible in face of whitening Great Barrier Reef

(Flickr/ Oregon State University)

(Flickr/ Oregon State University)

By Alex Pashley

Australian lawmakers have been slammed as “crying crocodile tears” after giving the go-ahead for a mega-mine amid scientist warnings of record bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef. 

The Queensland government granted leases on Sunday at the AUS $22 billion Carmichael mine, which aims to produce 60m tonnes of coal a year for shipment through the delicate, coral ecosystem to Asia.

In recent months, warm waters driven by a strong El Nino and man-made emissions have caused vast tracts of the 2,300-km long reef to turn white. Corals bleach when heat-stressed, expelling algae to reveal a limestone skeleton, which makes them brittle.

The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce says 95% of reefs from Cairns to Papua New Guinea are now severely bleached.

The decision to approve the mine added “fuel to the fire” as it spurred global warming, said Greens leader Larissa Waters. “Crying crocodile tears about coral bleaching while giving this dangerous mega mine the all clear is both hypocritical and irresponsible.”

Abbot Point port is a gateway for coal from planned mines in the Galilee Basin (Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

The decision was akin to “evil” according to one of the world’s leading marine scientists.

“It defies reason,” said Charlie Veron, former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. “I think there is no single action that could be as harmful to the Great Barrier Reef as the Carmichael coal mine.”

Carmichael is the biggest of several coal mines planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin as Australia meets Asian demand for the fuel.

If fully developed, Greenpeace estimates the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel will exceed the combined output of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Unesco “notes with concern” the reef is threatened by climate change and coastal development.

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Scientists at UCL, a UK university, calculate more than 90% of Australia’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to hold global warming to 2C, as internationally agreed.

A spokesperson for environment minister Greg Hunt said the government was “investing more money and taking more action than ever before to protect this great natural wonder.”

It comes at a time of increasing criticism of the Turnbull government after plans to axe 350 jobs at its leading science agency on federal spending cuts.

Leaked emails made public on Monday showed managers discussing a “clean cut” of 120 staff, removing all capacity for climate science. A CSIRO spokesman said the plan was discussed but eventually rejected.

Read more on: Corals | Pacific