Coal scuttles coral hopes?

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By Dr Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London (P.J.Jones [at] ucl.ac.uk)

A recent article highlights that the "Great Barrier Reef and Indigenous heritage laws face 'one-stop shop' threat", in that Australia's Environment Department is proposing to cut 'green tape' that can hinder economic development proposals. "This could mean decision-making for the dumping of materials into the Great Barrier Reef marine park being stripped from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and handed to the Queensland government." The proposal to dump dredge spoil in the GBRMP to expand Abbot Point coal terminal is a key driver of this initiative.

As in the UK and no doubt many countries, there is much talk of one-stop shops and streamlining consent procedures in Australia, code-speak for prioritizing development over conservation?.... "biodiversity offsetting" being code-speak for prioritizing development and then pretending there is no-net biodiversity loss afterwards? Very worrying words from Dr Kimberley Dripps, deputy secretary at the Department of the Environment- "As we encounter them [obstacles to one-stop approval like the GBRMP Act] we are looking at whether it is necessary for them to exist".

The bitter irony is that the biggest long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change, i.e ocean warming and acidification (see latest IPCC report on ocean ecosystems).The dumping of millions of tonnes of dredge spoil from Abbot Point will not only have direct impacts on the Park's biodiversity, but the expanded port will export 85 million tonnes of coal per year, making it the biggest coal port in the world and making a major contribution to accelerating climate change. This will worsen the prospects for the Great Barrier Reef and potentially seal its feat (see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2014/mar/great-barrier-reef-obituary). The Great Barrier Reef should be an international symbol of the urgent need to address climate change (see http://earthhour.org.au/LIGHTS_OUT_FOR_THE_REEF_Earth_Hour_2014.pdf), rather than both undermining its resilience to climate change by dumping dredge spoil AND accelerating climate change by exporting coal through it: coal scuttles coral hopes?

Comments

See http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/20/clive-palmers-galilee-basin-mine-given-green-light-by-greg-hunt for an interesting article about the impacts of the mine that will supply the coal, the export of which Abbot Point is being expanded to provide for. This highlights the impacts of the 'China First' mine, which will wipe out half of the 8,000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Refuge, as well as noting that the 40 million tonnes of coal from the mine, to be exported via Abbot Point, will generate 85.6 million tonnes of CO2, slightly more than the annual emissions of Romania. There are also concerns that an economic slowdown in China, which is the main market for the coal, will reduce demand for and the price of the coal, along with growing pressure on China to reduce air pollution from, amongst other sources, coal burning power stations. There are fears that these factors could make the mine economically unviable, meaning the massive economic investment in the mine, the railway link and the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion would be wasted. It would also mean that the major environmental impacts of the mine and the Abbot Point expansion would have been in vain - time for a re-think on this short-term and potentially economically dubious project?

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