Activists launched court action Monday accusing Australia’s environment minister of failing to protect the Great Barrier Reef and other treasures from the climate risks of coal mining.
They allege the minister, Tanya Plibersek, has unlawfully refused to act on “a large volume of expert and scientific evidence of climate risk”.
The case focuses on applications to extend coal mining operations into the 2040s at two sites in New South Wales state owned by MACH Energy and Narrabri Coal Operations.
Both coal mining firms have joined the minister in defending the case.
The mining extension applications are in the final stages of the state and federal approvals process.
The Environment Council of Central Queensland, which is bringing the case at the Federal Court in Melbourne, argued it was unlawful for the minister to refuse to act on the “climate science”.
The council said it wrote to Plibersek last year asking her to re-consider a number of coal mining proposals because of their link with global warming and the likely “significant impact” on environmental treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef.
“We’re doing this because we’re so tired of the sound bites. So tired of photos of ministers posing with koalas, saying all the right things but failing to act,” said the environmental group’s president, Christine Carlisle.
“The science could not be clearer. It’s time for our environment minister to step up and act on climate risk.”
Australia has committed to cutting carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
But the centre-left Labor government has refused to rule out approving new coal mines in a country that is one of the world’s largest coal exporters.
“Our client asserts the minister has a legal responsibility to face up to the harm new coal and gas will cause to Australia’s unique plants, animals and places,” said Environmental Justice Australia senior lawyer Retta Berryman, who is representing the group in court.
A spokesperson for Plibersek declined to comment because the case is before the courts.