Australian Court Votes for Climate over Coal in Landmark Ruling

The landmark ruling by a court in NSW will definitely queer the pitch for a host of other present and future plans of the mining industry, in the world's biggest exporting nation of coal.

In a surprising development for most people,  a court in Australia has decided to side with the risk of global warming and green house gas emissions , in rejecting an appeal for an open cut coal mine in the region. For Australia, the biggest coal exporter in the world, it might signal a new front for the government as it struggles to balance its need for revenues versus the damage its exports cause.

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court was hearing an appeal by Gloucester Resources, a mining firm which was appealing against a state government decision to disallow mining  in the town of Gloucester in the Hunter Valley. The earlier decision had also been taken under pressure from local residents as well as environmentalists.

While this is the first time a new coal mine has been rejected in Australia, the decision has looked increasingly likely over the past two years, as courts and judges seemed to grow increasingly frustrated with government  explanations to allow mining in the faceof increasing evidence of the damage it was causing. In his ruling, chief judge Brian Preston said the project should be refused because “the greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) of the coal mine and its product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.”

One wonders how much the judge was influenced by the Australian weather  recently. The country has been battling drought in large parts of the continent for the past decade, and in January this year, it endured the hottest summer month  on record. Other  extreme weather events have caused major destruction in large parts of the country — fires have burned about 3% of Tasmania and northern Queensland has been inundated by rain, causing unprecedented flooding. Its a story being repeated in many other parts of the world, in frequency as well as the scale of these ‘aberrations’.

It remains to be seen how far, or quickly, the possible new ‘Australian way’ could impact other countries facing a similar predicament. For countries, much like the the appealing firm in the case, the issue is more about someone else doing it if they don’t. A race to the bottom if there ever was one.

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