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Australia Court Rules it is the ‘Wrong Time’ for Coal

Court Concludes that Coal Project Would Contribute to Global Warming

A coal mine near Gunnedah, Australia, September 11, 2012. © AP Photo/Rob Griffith

An Australia court has rejected an appeal to grant permission to develop a new coal mine because it will contribute to global warming, the latest in a series of court rulings grounded in concerns over climate change.

It is the “wrong time” for coal, the Environmental and Land Court of New South Wales concluded,  “because the GHG [Greenhouse Gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed…is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.”

The court’s landmark decision last week is consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 Special Report of Global Warming of 1.5°, which stressed the need to phase out coal to avoid surpassing the 1.5°C increase temperature threshold. The 1.5°C objective is spelled out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change adopted in 2015.

The ruling also resonates with the November 2018 open letter from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to governments participating in last year’s global climate talks.  Ms Bachelet reminded governments of their human rights obligation “to strengthen their mitigation commitments in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change."

Unfortunately, the United States, one of the world’s major emitters of GHGs, is moving in the opposite direction by deregulating the coal industry. In December 2018, Human Rights Watch released an 88-page report documenting how the  government removed constraints on mountaintop removal, an extremely destructive form of surface coal mining, despite a large body of evidence that air and water pollution resulting from the activity pose serious health risks to nearby communities.

The Australian court’s ruling contrasts with its government’s support of the coal industry. Australia made headlines as the only other country to join the United States at a pro-coal event during last year’s climate summit.

The ruling is the latest in a wave of litigation on climate change. In 2018, an appeals court in the Netherlands ordered the Dutch government to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by the end of 2020. In that case, the Dutch Court found that obligations to protect the human rights of the Dutch citizens require more ambitious climate targets.

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