An Australian court yesterday delivered a landmark ruling by rejecting plans to build a coal mine on the grounds it would worsen climate change.
Chief Justice Brian Preston said that a planned open-cut coal mine in a scenic part of New South Wales state would be in “the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The ruling by the New South Wales Land and Environment Court was notable for citing not only local consequences of building the Gloucester Resources mine, but also secondary “climate change impacts” of the eventual use of the coal.
“It matters not that this aggregate of the project’s GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions may represent a small fraction of the global total of GHG emissions,” the justice said. “Not every natural resource needs to be exploited.”
The case was unusual in referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and calling climate scientists to testify.
Will Steffen, a climatologist, told the court that Australia’s average surface temperature had increased 1°C over the past century.
Climate campaigners have described the case as a “seminal judgement” in Australian law and hope that it sets a legal precedent.
Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of coal and the world’s largest exporter — fueling power plants in Japan, China, South Korea and India.
“It’s a judgement of enormous significance,” said David Morris, a solicitor for Environmental Defenders Office, which represented local residents against the project.
“It heralds the arrival of climate litigation in Australia, the first time climate change has featured as a ground for refusal of a fossil-fuel project in this country and, as far as I’m aware, anywhere,” he said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation described the ruling — which can be appealed — as “significant.”
Gloucester Resources, which was not immediately available for comment, had said that the project would create 170 jobs and would be in place for two decades.
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