GLOUCESTER’S controversial Rocky Hill open cut coal mine proposal cannot be approved if Australia is to meet its obligations under the global Paris Agreement on climate change, a court has heard.
Climate change expert Professor Will Steffen gave evidence on Tuesday for the first time in an Australian court about the need for no new fossil fuel developments to be approved if Australia is to avoid overspending its carbon budget under the agreement.
Professor Steffen’s evidence came after Groundswell Gloucester successfully argued to be joined as a party to the Land and Environment Court case after Rocky Hill mine owner, Gloucester Resources, appealed a NSW Government decision to reject the mine because of its impact on the Gloucester community and town.
The appeal, which started last week and is expected to run into next week, is the latest twist in the years-long campaign by Gloucester Resources to establish an open cut coking coal mine five kilometres south of the town, and Groundswell Gloucester’s fight to stop the project.
In April the Land and Environment Court agreed to join the community group as a party to the appeal after Groundswell Gloucester successfully argued climate change would not be considered as an issue without its involvement. Gloucester Resources objected to the application while NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts consented.
On Tuesday energy analyst Tim Buckley explained to the court how financial mechanisms and market changes that are driving investments away from coal would create a risk that Rocky Hill would become a stranded asset. Mr Buckley is Australasian director of energy finance studies at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
In submissions to the court Groundswell Gloucester has argued that decision-makers must be satisfied that a project will not infringe on commitments made by Australia in the Paris Agreement.
A NSW Planning and Assessment Commission panel did not consider the climate change impact in its reasons for refusing the Rocky Hill project.
Gloucester Resources told the court in April that climate change was “really a complaint about global geo-political relations” and a merits appeal in the Land and Environment Court over a mine refusal was “a most singularly inappropriate vehicle” for doing so.
Gloucester Resources argued the court would be asked to consider “matters of global and national environmental management, policy and regulation … that are beyond the jurisdiction of the court” and a “hopeless issue”.
Ms Dixon agreed to Groundswell Gloucester joining the case because of the significant public interest in the appeal.
“It provides an opportunity for community to cross-examine (Gloucester Resources’s) witnesses and to make submissions to the court and bring forward new expert evidence about issues which may impact them,” Ms Dixon said.
The NSW Environmental Defenders Office, which is running the case for Groundswell Gloucester, said the appeal was the first hearing of its kind since the Paris Agreement in which an Australian court heard expert testimony about climate change, the carbon budget and the impacts of the burning of fossil fuels.
The hearing continues.