The Queensland government has approved a mega coalmine project which environmentalists say poses “unacceptable threats” to Queenslanders’ human rights.
The project now goes for federal approval, where it could become the biggest coalmine given the green light since the Albanese government came to power.
Whitehaven’s Winchester South coalmine would be located in the state’s Bowen Basin, near the town of Moranbah, and mine an estimated 15m tonnes of thermal and metallurgical coal each year for 28 years.
Queensland’s coordinator general recommended the approval of the mine last year despite conceding it “has the capacity to limit human rights” due to “climate change consequences that may arise from the project”.
According to the company’s environmental impact statement, the project would contribute 583m tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution – more than Australia’s national annual greenhouse gas emissions – including 14.2m tonnes of on-site emissions and 567m tonnes of scope three emissions created when it is burned overseas. Approximately 58% of the mine’s coal is for steel production, while the other 42% would be exported to Asian countries for use in producing electricity.
The mine would also clear 2,000 hectares south-east of Moranbah of habitat of endangered and threatened species such as koalas, the Australian painted snipe, the ornamental snake and the squatter pigeon, according to the coordinator general’s report.
The decision comes after Queensland’s premier, Steven Miles, doubled the state’s emissions reduction target to 75% by 2035 – making it one of the most ambitious in the country.
Dr Coral Rowston, the director of Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland, said it was “contradictory” for the Queensland government to approve the mine so soon after bolstering its emissions reduction target.
“The Winchester South coalmine … poses unacceptable threats to ecosystems and Queenslanders’ human rights,” she said.
“Let’s hope federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek can fix the Miles government’s poor decision making and reject this koala-killing, climate-destroying coalmine.”
At a Queensland media club event on Tuesday, Miles was asked how feasible it was that the state would reach its emissions targets if Winchester South was to join the Vulcan South coalmine in being approved this year.
Miles said he would legislate the emissions target, with the state remaining accountable for emissions produced in Queensland.
“The vast bulk of Queensland is coal is coking coal … We don’t have an alternative for steelmaking. We will one day but we need to deal with wind turbines and solar panels and batteries and all the things we need for this transformation,” he said.
“So there will continue to be a role for our resources industry.”
Dave Copeman, the director of the Queensland Conservation Council, said the approval of the Winchester South mine was “a disappointing day for Queensland”.
He urged the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to refuse its operation.
“It is the biggest greenfield coalmine coming up for approval in Australia,” Copeman said.
“As an open cut mine, once they start extracting coal, it will be too late to reduce the methane that will be released into the atmosphere continuously for generations, turbocharging climate change.”
A spokesperson at the Department of Environment confirmed the mine had been approved.
“This project was comprehensively assessed through an environmental impact statement managed by the coordinator general, who issued an evaluation report in November 2023, which recommended the project proceed subject to the conditions and recommendations in the report,” they said.
“This EA application was publicly notified and five submissions were received by the department – all of which were considered in the assessment process.”
Guardian Australia has contacted Whitehaven Coal for comment.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the coalmine was a “test” for the federal environment minister after the Queensland government gave it the green light.
“We need new environment laws that stop new coalmines from further damaging our climate and nature, which is why the Greens are fighting for a climate trigger [to assess projects],” she said.
“We urge the government to work with us so coalmines like this are stopped in their tracks.”