Australia approved Thursday one of the world’s largest coal projects, backed by Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate with interests spanning mining, energy and logistics, dismissing the United Nations and scientists concerns over potential damaging effects to the nearby Great Barrier Reef.
The $12bn (A$16.5bn) Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project, in the untapped Galilee Basin, was temporarily blocked this Summer, but environment minister Greg Hunt said today work can continue subject to what he called “the strictest conditions in Australian history.”
First proposed in 2010, the Carmichael project will mine up and transport about 60 million tonnes of coal a year for export, mostly to India.
Critics call the approval of the mine, which will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney Harbour, a “grossly irresponsible” decision.
Minister Hunt said the 36 conditions he had imposed upon the Carmichael mine and its rail infrastructure project took into account “issues raised by the community and ensure that the proponent (Adani) must meet the highest environmental standards”.
The requirements include the compulsory implementation of all advice provided by an independent scientific committee. Adani will also have to protect and improve 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat, and will have to permanently monitor groundwater at a nearby wetland.
Coal port projects and expansions have been a source of controversy in recent years, with academics and environmental groups raising the issue of “irreparable damage” to the country’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
In 2012 UNESCO, the UN educational, scientific and cultural arm, sent an inspection team to the area, finding “a continuing decline in the quality of some parts” of the reef. However, the Queensland Resources Council was quick to snub the report.
Two years ago, more than 150 marine scientists from 33 institutions signed a letter warning Australian authorities of the mounting threats new coal ports and other industrial projects pose to the reef’s habitat.
Even Deutsche Bank refused last year to fund Adani’s plans to expand the port after the UN raised fresh on the world’s heritage site.
Some 100 million tonnes of coal will pass along the railway every year.
Local indigenous landowners, who are battling Adani in Australia’s Federal Court, also slammed the mine approval and described the state and federal governments’ actions as “economically and environmentally irresponsible and morally bankrupt”.