Clive Palmer’s Queensland coalmine will harm ‘future generations’, court finds in landmark climate ruling | Queensland


A Queensland court has found the plans of a company owned by Clive Palmer to dig Australia’s largest thermal coalmine in central Queensland infringe upon the human rights of future generations, in landmark climate case.

The Queensland land court’s president, Fleur Kingham, said the case was not about whether any new coalmine should be approved, but “whether this coalmine should be approved on its merits”.

“This coal is a public resource owned by the state to be exploited, or not, for the public good,” she said on Friday morning.

“Climate change was a key issue in this hearing.”

Kingham said the 1.58 gigatonnes of carbon emissions that would be produced would pose an “unacceptable” risk of climate crisis for Queensland people and property that “had not been fully accounted for”.

The mine would make a significant dent in Australia’s carbon budget under the Paris agreement, Kingham found, and it would infringe upon the human rights of First Nations Queenslanders.

“In relation to climate change, I have found that the following rights of certain groups of people in Queensland would be limited: the right to life, the cultural rights of First Nations peoples, the rights of children, the right to property and to privacy and home, and the right to enjoy human rights equally,” she said.

Kingham said her decision was a recommendation, but that the mine’s approval was ultimately a matter for the Queensland resources minister and the environment department.

She described the potential $2.5bn economic benefits of the mine as “considerable”.

But she also said they were “uncertain in a market with declining demand for thermal coal”.

“There is a real prospect the mine will not be viable throughout its projected life and that not all the economic benefits will be realised,” she said.

“Further, the costs of climate change to people in Queensland, to which combustion of coal from the project will contribute, have not been fully accounted for. Nor have the environmental costs of the act of mining on Bimblebox.”

She rejected Waratah’s argument that its mine would make no difference to total emissions, because it would “displace other lower quality coal”.

The case, which began in April, was brought by a group of young people, Youth Verdict, and is led by its First Nations members.

The group argues that the Galilee coal project proposed by Palmer’s company, Waratah Coal, would cause environmental harm by contributing to global climate change, and in the process limit the cultural rights of First Nations Queenslanders to maintain their distinctive relationships with the land, the court heard.

The barrister acting for Youth Verdict, Saul Holt QC, had said in his opening statement that Waratah Coal was ultimately controlled by a single person whose attempt at financial gain “on the collapsing coal market” was not cost free.

“It comes at an obscenely high cost and most of that cost will be borne by future generations,” Holt said.

Peter Ambrose QC, acting for Waratah Coal, said “climate change is real” but argued the coal at the site was “high-energy producing” and would ultimately result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

“If the … coal is not brought to market, coal from other sources will supply the market, however long the market exists,” Ambrose told the court.

As part of the case, the court travelled to the Torres Strait to consider the first-hand impacts of climate change. It is the first time the Queensland Human Rights Act, adopted in 2019, has been considered in relation to the impact of a resources project.

The Galilee Coal project – formerly called China First – has not progressed since it gained federal environmental approval in late 2013. The proposed mine is about 100km from Adani’s Carmichael project and would require much of its own supporting infrastructure.

Waratah Coal has plans to build two open-cut pits, four underground mines – removing 40m tonnes a year – and a 453km railway linking the project to the Adani-owned Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen.

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