Youth coal mine fight reaches Qld court

·3-min read

The demand for thermal coal over the next 30 years has formed a key point of difference in opening arguments as to whether a major project in Queensland's Galilee basin should go ahead.

Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal expects to extract 40 million tonnes of coal annually over about 25 years, much of which it wants to export.

Opposing the proposal's mining lease and environmental approval in the Queensland Land Court is Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance, both represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.

While the opposing parties agree that climate change is real and the impacts will be felt without action to reduce emissions, they differ on how the project will interact with global markets.

In opening statements heard on Tuesday, Waratah Coal's lawyer Peter Ambrose QC argued that while coal is being phased out, there will still be demand during the life of the project.

Many countries are moving toward reducing emissions, but there could be "pockets of future growth" in fast developing areas in the Indo-Pacific, he said.

The coal to be extracted could displace lower quality coal from other sources, meaning less has to be burnt for the same energy output, Mr Ambrose argued.

In response, Saul Holt QC from the Environmental Defenders Office said the mine was an attempt at financial gain in a collapsing coal market - the cost of which will be borne by future generations.

The project makes assumptions about coal quality, cost and price that are presently "unclear and inconsistent", he said.

Waratah's argument appeared to suggest there would be a fixed demand for thermal coal going forward, Mr Holt said.

"Climate scientists have identified possible future scenarios in which humanity ceases burning coal well before 2050," he said.

"Those scenarios can exist without this mine, they cannot exist with it."

Youth Verdict co-founder Monique Jeffs said it was frustrating that new coal mines were being entertained when the impact of climate change was already being felt.

"We know that we need to be transitioning and we're still having a discussion about whether or not we open new thermal coal mines," the 22-year-old told AAP.

"We're all ... spending so much time doing this work because it's quite terrifying to know that in the next 20 years climate change is just going to have more and more severe impacts."

The mine is being opposed on human rights grounds relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' cultural connection to land as well as living standards amid rising emissions.

Local environmental concerns centre on the potential destruction of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge caused by underground mining.

"The idea that a coal mining exploration permit can be given out over a nature refuge is unthinkable. It throws into question the entire nature refuge program and the legal agreements that underpin it," The Bimblebox Alliance's Sharyn Munro says.

The case is expected to be heard over the next six weeks.

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