The Adani Group is an Indian-based coal company that is seeking to expand their operations in the Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland. However, Adani have claimed that they do not have the capital to expand but this has been not been a cause of concern for the company as the Australian federal government has said that they would provide a A$1 billion taxpayer-funded loan to help finance the project. Unsurprisingly environmentalists in Queensland have been agitating against the expansion for some time now but the government in Canberra has take no notice. It appears, though, that Canberra will now take notice because of the Queensland state elections.
A few days ago the results of the Queensland state election began to trickle in and it appears that the Australian Labor Party will lead the government. At the time of writing Labor have 46 seats, one short of an overall majority. But how does this affect the financing of the pipeline, after all the loan was promised by the Liberal-Nationalists at the federal level?
According to the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, the government agency considering the taxpayer-loan proposal, the Queensland government has the power to block the loan. Considering the Queensland Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk had said on the campaign trail that she would block any loan, and Labor are likely to have a majority in the Legislative Assembly, the future of the mine expansion is now in doubt. The loan from the Australian government was intended to encourage Chinese state investment in the project and this vote of confidence would spur private investment.
There are two main reasons that environmentalists are opposed to the expansion of the mine. Firstly, the sizable amount of carbon emissions produced would contribute to global climate change. According to Climate Home, if the Carmichael mine was fully developed the complex could produce 77 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year for the next 60 years, which equates to around twice the annual emissions of the whole of New Zealand. The other reason is that runoff may spill into the Great Barrier Reef, a vulnerable ecosystem that is already at risk from ocean acidification. In such a situation, the environmental and economic consequences for Queensland would be dramatic.
Anther aspect of this story is that the additional coal produced wouldn’t actually be burned in Australia. The coal is likely to be exported to India to be burned there. Although one could argue that environmental issues affect everyone on earth because pollution doesn’t stop at national boundaries, and this is true, air pollution in India is already a massive issue. Due to geography, it is the Indian people who will be hit first by any increase in emissions and to allow these people to be subjected to even more pollution in the atmosphere is unconscionable.
It must be emphasised that this victory for environmentalists is not guaranteed as Labor have not yet won a majority and a veto has not been imposed yet. Further, although unlikely to proceed, it is not impossible for the mine expansion to receive Chinese and private sector funding. Activists on the ground have been brave in their opposition to a power company but they must remain organised and people in other countries such as myself should do everything possible to raise awareness of this issue and promote fossil fuel divestment by companies and institutions. The fight against climate change is both local and international, and by divesting from fossil fuels at a local level, the amount of capital in the hands of willing investors for future projects is diminished. It may feel like a drop in the ocean but all those drops add up to become a massive wave.