The Australian Government has approved a license extension at a thermal coal mine despite opposition from climate groups and Australia’s Greens Party.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who came to power in May 2022, approved the mine on Friday. This is the third coal mine to be approved by Australian ministers in the past two months.
Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan will have its licence for the Ensham mine in Queensland extended for another nine years. The 4.5 million tonnes a year of coal it produces will be used in power stations.
Albanese’s left-wing government came to power last year with promises of stricter emissions targets and greater renewables investment. Despite this, the government has also backed the expansion of coal and natural gas production.
The Australian Government seeks to reduce CO₂ emissions to 43% of 2005 levels by 2030.
Coal and gas are Australia’s second and third-largest export earners. The annual production rates at the Ensham mine will equate to 2.5% of Australia’s thermal coal exports in 2022.
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In May of this year, Albanese approved another mine located in Queensland to produce metallurgical coal.
Australia is the world’s second-largest coal exporter. According to a report published this week by the Australian Government, thermal coal volume rates will grow by 7.3% this year. Shipments of metallurgical coal will also grow by 2.6%.
“Overall investment in (thermal and metallurgical) coal mines remain healthy, but with a shift towards less risky brownfield projects, and with less focus on thermal coal,” the report states.
Criticism from environmentalists
“Three coal mine approvals in the last two months show our environment laws are broken,” Greens spokesperson for the environment Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said in a statement.
“The Ensham coal mine will add 100 million tonnes of pollution and wreck critical koala and greater glider habitat, hurting native wildlife. Australians didn’t vote for this, but Labor [Albanese’s party] are captured by donations from the coal and gas industry,” she went on.
Albanese’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said that the approval was made in line with existing environmental rules.
In February, Plibersek declined a coal mine permit due to its proximity to the ecologically protected Great Barrier Reef. She also rejected two further mines in May due to failure to provide sufficient details of environmental impact. However, the move was criticised as an attempt to distract from other mine approvals, including by research organisation the Australia Institute.
Climate campaign organisations Lock the Gate and Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland have both submitted objections to the granting of the mining lease.
“The Albanese Government needs to face up to the facts that approvals like this contribute to dangerous climate change,” Ellen Roberts, coordinator with the Lock the Gate, said in a statement.