AUSTRALIA'S climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement could be linked to a NSW coal mine for the first time under proposed conditions for a Hunter mine expansion that have been both welcomed and criticised by environment groups.
The joint venture Glencore/Peabody United Wambo project will be required to ensure "all practicable measures" are taken to minimise greenhouse gas emissions in countries where its coal is exported, including Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, under a condition proposed by the NSW Independent Planning Commission for the first time.
The commission has called for public comment on a proposal requiring the Singleton joint venture project to prepare an export management plan linking the sale of Australian coal to countries with policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
The agreement includes an international goal to hold global warming to "well below 2°C" and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, requiring countries to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible after 2050.
The proposed United Wambo condition was revealed only days after the commission made public a Glencore email revealing the NSW Department of Planning and other government agencies secretly workshopped "problematic" mine approval conditions with mining companies "as a matter of convention" for more than 20 years.
The linking of a NSW coal mine with Australia's Paris Agreement commitments comes only months after NSW Land and Environment Court Chief Justice Brian Preston's landmark decision on Gloucester's Rocky Hill project that was the first NSW coal mine refusal to include a consideration of greenhouse gas emissions.
The planning commission's proposed condition would require an export management plan "to the satisfaction" of NSW Planning Secretary Jim Betts and for United Wambo to "use its best endeavours" to ensure coal from the site was exported to countries that had signed the Paris Agreement or had policies consistent with its goals.
In a submission to the commission in April Glencore and Peabody said the most likely countries to take United Wambo coal were already Paris Agreement signatories. It argued against any linking of the mine with emissions from exported coal burnt in another country, as proposed by environment groups in the wake of the Rocky Hill decision.
"It is both appropriate and consistent with the overarching international climate change framework for... emissions to be accounted for, regulated and reported by the respective countries that are ultimately responsible for the combustion or use of the project's coal once it is exported from Australia," Glencore and Peabody said.
But Justice Preston accepted arguments from climate change experts including Professor Will Steffen that it was the wrong time to expand coal mining because if the Paris Agreement targets are to be met most of the world's existing fossil fuel reserves should be left in the ground, unburned.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods welcomed the commission's "transparency and involvement of the public in its consideration of this important matter" and encouraged people to make submissions by August 9.
Lock the Gate also welcomed the commission signalling its support for the Paris Agreement as a key framework for the management of coal mines.
"With this proposal the commission is signalling NSW's participation in the Paris Agreement and global efforts to address climate change and for the first time making that agreement part of the conditions of consent for a NSW coal mine proposal," Ms Woods said.
But NSW Environmental Defenders Office chief executive David Morris said the proposed condition was flawed because many countries, on current trajectories, will fail to meet existing commitments and even if countries meet those commitments the world will warm far more than the Paris targets.
While it was positive that the commission was grappling with the issues raised in the Rocky Hill decision, the proposed United Wambo condition would "set a dangerous precedent and does not sit comfortably with the commission's obligation to consider the public interest", Mr Morris said.
Justice Preston's "wrong time" test required rapid and deep reductions, leaving the commission's proposed condition as "a political approach, rather than one based on physics", Mr Morris said.
"The emphasis in the condition is on the destination of exports and really doesn't require anything meaningful. The condition is a poor response to the obligation of the panel to consider emissions (in other countries using Australian coal) and the public interest, including intergenerational equality."
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