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Priorities of coral and coal clash in Qld

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/06/2017 Rod McGuirk

As many Australians grapple with how to save their Great Barrier Reef from global warming, others are preoccupied with building one of the world's biggest coal mines nearby.

Coal mining and environmental tourism are both cash cows for the Sunshine State.

But the Carmichael coal project, a massive $A22 billion mine that Indian resource billionaire Gautam Adani hopes to start work on this year in the remote Galilee Basin, has created an extraordinary clash between the resource and environment sectors.

Those concerned by the environmental cost of the colossal development are particularly irked that federal and state governments have considered subsidising Adani's entry into an already-crowded Australian coal mining industry.

Adani boasts that the mine will generate power for 100 million Indians, while providing Queensland with 10,000 jobs plus $A22 billion in mining tax and royalties revenue within 30 years.

"This will assist much needed public funding to help deliver schools, hospitals, roads and other services and stimulating activity throughout the economy," an Adani statement said.

A study of coral bleaching on the reef, published in the journal Nature in March, focused international attention on the devastation to coral expanses dealt by rising ocean temperatures off Australia's coast.

Researchers found 91 per cent of the 2,300-kilometre Great Barrier Reef had been bleached at least once during three bleaching events of the past two decades, the most serious event occurring last year.

The government authority in charge of the reef marine park reported to a Senate committee in May that as much as half of the 344,000 square kilometres of coral might already be dead due to bleaching.

"This has happened because of global warming. We burned too many fossil fuels and might have lost half the reef," said Sam Regester, campaign director of the activist organisation GetUp.

"It's devastating. You should be furious," Regester said. "One of the wonders of the world is dying, and government has chosen to actively make it worse."

Some are concerned that the Adani mine will further damage the World Heritage-listed reef through dredging at its port at Abbot Point at the south end of the coral, dust contamination of its waters or through increased coal-carrier traffic with all its inherent risks.

But opponents argue the main threat to the reef isn't posed by the mine's proximity. They blame the sheer mass of warming carbon gases that it could unleash into the atmosphere.

The latest reef report by Climate Council, an independent think tank, said Carmichael would become Australia's largest coal mine and would have a potential lifetime of 25 to 60 years. Burning all of the coal in the Galilee Basin would release an estimated 705 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year - more than 1.3 times Australia's current annual emissions from all sources.

"Put another way," the report said, "if the Galilee Basin were a country on its own, it would rank in the top 15 emitting countries in the world."

Australian Conservation Foundation, an independent environmental group, last year launched an unsuccessful court challenge to the federal government's approval under environmental law for the mine to go ahead. The foundation had argued that the government failed to fully consider the impact of coal burnt in India on the reef. The government argued that the same amount of coal could still be mined somewhere else in the world if Carmichael did not proceed.

The foundation appealed their loss in March and is waiting for the full bench of the Federal Court to make its ruling.

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