Australia has made a huge step in protecting its Great Barrier Reef, rejecting a proposal for a new coal mine less than 10km near the UNCECO World Heritage site. This is the first time a coal mine has been blocked under federal environmental laws.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced her final decision on the Central Queensland Coal Project on Twitter, stating that “the mine is an open-cut coal mine less than 10km from the Great Barrier Reef, and the risk of pollution and irreversible damage to the reef is very real. The project would have had unacceptable impacts on freshwater in the area and potentially on fragile seagrass meadows.”
The mine was supposed to run for 10 years, extracting about 10 million tonnes of coal per year. The minister “decided that the adverse environmental impacts are simply too great,” so the proposal was rejected. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of metallurgical coal and a significant exporter of fossil fuels, which makes its emissions per capita among the highest in the world, the country accounting for producing 3.6% of the world’s emissions, while its population for only 0.3% of the world’s population.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, stretching over 2,300 km off the coast of Australia in the Coral Sea. It is home to a diverse array of marine life, including over 1,500 species of fish, hundreds of species of coral, and numerous other species of marine mammals, birds, and reptiles. However, the Great Barrier Reef is facing significant challenges, including the impacts of climate change, pollution, and overfishing, having suffered three coral bleaching events in the last five years. A joint assessment from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre suggested in November last year that the reef “be included on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”