Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley has approved a third coal mine extension in the space of a month. The extension at Glencore’s Mangoola thermal coal mine in New South Wales follows extensions at the Whitehaven coal mine and the Wollongong coal mine in September.

The extension at the Glencore site will allow the mine to run for another eight years and produce 52 million tonnes of coal. In a statement covering the reasons for the approval of extension, Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley stated: “The mine itself will contribute approximately 0.00073 % to global emissions per annum.”

She continued: “Based on this estimate, (the mine) … is unlikely to influence global emissions and climate change trajectories.”

Glencore had stated that the mine would create upwards of 100 construction jobs and secure ongoing employment for Mangoola’s workforce of approximately 400 employees. In addition, the miner noted that it had invested more than five years in detailed studies and consultation from the project.

Climate controversy

However, the decision has caused significant controversy, especially in the lead up to COP26, where the phasing out of coal power will be one of the main talking points.

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Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter. In 2020, the export value of coal from Australia was approximately A$54.62bn. The country has also yet to sign up for commitments for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, leading critics and climate campaigners to lambast the government for inaction on climate change.

The extension also follows a federal court decision in July declared that the nation’s environment minister has a “duty to take reasonable care” that young people won’t be harmed or killed by carbon dioxide emissions if she approves a coal mine expansion.

The subsequent approval of the mine extensions shocked climate campaigners, who stated that there should be “no moral, legal, or rational way” that Ley could now approve the project.

Georgina Woods, the Lock the Gate Alliance’s New South Wales coordinator, said in response to the extension: “This is the third coal mining project the Australian Government has approved in recent weeks, despite a recent federal court judgment acknowledging the harm such projects will do to human health, and particularly to children.

“Coming as it does just a month before pivotal global climate change negotiations, it is frankly alarming to witness this country digging itself deeper into its obstinate refusal to take climate change and rural sustainability seriously.”

The decision forms part of a broader debate within Australian politics whether to set a target of reaching net zero by 2050, with the current government remaining split on the issue. However, in agreeing to fund several fossil fuel projects, including a grant of A$30m to Australian Industrial Power for work on a gas-fired power station at Port Kembla, it seems clear that Australia is not divesting away from fossil fuel sources anytime soon.