THE NSW Government would "seal the fate" of the Tuvalu people if mining goes ahead on an Upper Hunter coal exploration area roughly the size of the Pacific island nation, said a leading Catholic refugee activist in Tuvalu pushing for Australian action on climate change.
Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning condemned the Wilpinjong mine push into a greatly expanded exploration area as part of "a grave injustice perpetrated on vulnerable, innocent people who do not contribute to the rising sea levels but who are being asked to pay the ultimate price."
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent report indicates we have 11 years, until 2030, to halve current rates of emissions if countries like Tuvalu are to survive," Mr Glendenning said.
"What the NSW Government's proposal does is the exact opposite of that. From the perspective of Tuvalu, the NSW Government's proposal seals their fate."
Mr Glendenning made the comments from Tuvalu on Thursday where Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Australia's climate change record against Pacific Island nation demands that Australia dramatically cut coal mining and stop approving new coal mines.
The low-lying nations including Tuvalu, where 90 per cent of the population lives on land less than three metres above sea level, criticised a $500 million aid offer from Australia to enhance renewable energy projects, with Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga describing it as money for people to "shut up.. and not talk about their rights to survive".
Former Mudgee student and leading school Strike 4 Climate activist Manjot Kaur said she felt "completely ashamed" by Australia's lack of response to the years of calls from Pacific Island nations for developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
"As our government is calling Pacific Island nations our family they've basically got two fingers crossed behind their backs," said Ms Kaur.
"Australia could be a climate leader. It could be prompting other nations to move towards renewables, but instead we're one of the biggest monsters when it comes to the impact our actions are having on other smaller countries.
"I think a lot of young people feel completely powerless at the moment. No matter what I'm doing to try to engage people on climate change, there are decisions being made by people in power, such as approving more mines, and I can't stop them.
"It is terrifying to think of young Pacific Island people and they don't even have the hope of knowing where they're going to be in the future.
"We all desperately need the adults in our lives, and the adults in power, to make the kinds of changes that are needed for our futures."
Hunter environmental activist Bev Smiles, who was arrested in 2017 after protesting outside the Wilpinjong mine near her home at Wollar, described the $500 million offer as "patronising", and said Australia "continuing to act as if it's situation normal is just appalling".
"It's worse than head in the sand now. The term willful ignorance is not strong enough to describe what we're doing while so many people face a threat to the actual places where they live," Ms Smiles said.
Peabody's Wilpinjong coal mine applied to the NSW Government in May for release of the largest new coal exploration lease area in the state adjoining its existing operation, which produces 13 million tonnes of coal a year for Bayswater power station.
A Department of Planning spokesperson said the application was made under a framework that allows exploration licence holders to apply for an "operational allocation" for any area bordering a mine that can "support improvements to the mine or to recover coal that would otherwise be sterilised".
"The framework recognises the value of mining investment in regional economies, allowing mining companies to maximise the value and longevity of mines," the spokesperson said.
The department's division of resources and geosciences has called for expressions of interest from other mining companies to determine if there is sufficient market interest for assessment under a more competitive strategic release framework.
In a letter to Planning Minister Rob Stokes on July 15 Wollar Progress Association objected to the proposed release to a mine which already has an approval to operate until 2033.
Mr Stokes referred the matter to Deputy Premier and Industry Minister John Barilaro.
Ms Smiles said the NSW Government's consideration of the Wilpinjong release, a pending decision on the controversial new Bylong coal mine and the recent Wallarah 2 approval on the Central Coast, were "untenable" under Australia's global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"This is the NSW Government seriously looking at releasing more coal for extraction into the future.
"These island nations have been trying their hardest for years to get international responses to the existential threats they face. We offered them money for renewable energy. How are these islands going to be able to set up renewable energy when they're sinking under a rising sea?" Ms Smiles said.
Newcastle diocese Anglican priest Rod Bower agreed with Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga's description of Australia's failure to cut back greenhouse gas emissions as "immoral", and it was the right of the people of Tuvalu and other small islands to survive.
"It is absolutely a moral issue. Ultimately it comes down to the ethical decisions a government makes in terms of the influence that flows from political donations. Clearly our government is highly influenced, and that is a moral issue," Reverend Bower said.
While the future of coal mining in the Hunter was "a real issue in terms of our social and economic dynamics", it was also necessary to consider future generations and people in countries where the impacts of climate change pose such a significant threat.
"We're proposing to open up a coal mine the size of the island we're going to destroy. In those smaller Pacific Island states their homes are going to disappear for every new coal mine we open, and that is morally unconscionable.
"If that doesn't trouble the Prime Minister's conscience and reset his moral compass then nothing will."
Lock the Gate Alliance challenged Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke's statement that Australia only had two new coal mines on the way and said it was "embarrassingly inaccurate".
"There are five new coal mines being considered in NSW and at least that number in the pipeline in Queensland," alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said.
"Perhaps Australia is ashamed to admit how far away we are from meaningful progress towards action on climate change."
Ms Woods said the NSW Government's handling of coal and gas exploration titles remained "opaque, riddled with ill-considered decisions and is increasingly at odds with the public interest".
"A failure of political leadership means the Hunter region is still beset by mining conflict and this conflict at home is bound up with strategic challenges for Australia in the world," she said.
"It's important we start preparing the Hunter with public investment and plans to diversify our economy so that we are better prepared for global changes that are underway."
This week Australia worked to remove mention of phasing out of coal in a communique at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.
Mr Hawke said it was a "red line issue" for Australia.
"We wouldn't want to see talks break down, but every country has their position, every country has the things that they need to stick with. Australia has a position that we need to stick with."
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly said Australia will meet its Paris Agreement emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels "in a canter", a United Nations report in 2018 listed Australia as just one of a number of G20 countries that would not meet the target by 2030.
Other countries on the list were Canada, Argentina, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United States.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY: