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AUSTRALIA: LANDMARK JUDICIAL DECISION BLOCK COAL MINE DEVELOPMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS GROUNDS

On the 25th of January 2022, the Land Court of Queensland in the judicial decision Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors (No 6) [2022] QLC 21 blocked an $8.4bn coal mine development in Queensland on human rights grounds.

In the judicial decision, the Australian Court affirmed that the issue raised by the proposed mine "lie at the heart of both environmental and human rights objections".


In the decision, the judicial authority analyzed in depth the origins and causes of climate change and the impact that the proposed mined project would have exerted.


In that regard, the mining company Waratah accepted that climate change is occurring and agreed impact has already happened and will continue to occur. They also accepted that the combustion resulting from the project would have contributed to climate change. However, the company affirmed that the mine’s contribution to GHG emissions would have been of little consequence in the context of national and global emissions and that if the mine was stopped there would have been adverse environmental outcomes, because lower-quality coal would have been burned.


On the contrary, the active objectors (i.e., Youth Verdict Ltd., the Bimblebox Alliance Inc., and John and Susan Brinnand) said that approving the mine would have been not consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, particularly the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity, as well as with a range of human rights, including those of children, vulnerable people and communities, and First Nations peoples.


The Court highlighted that "the interrelationship between human rights, the environment, and sustainable development has been recognized internationally for decades," that fossil fuel supply is not the only way to provide energy security, and that there are already alternatives that are less restrictive in limiting the human rights, which are reasonably available. The Court considered that the evidence did not suggest that the mining project was necessary to provide energy security in the case at issue.


Among other things, the Court also stated that climate change limits the right to life to some extent, and approving the mining project would have contributed to foreseeable and preventable life-terminating harm. From the perspective of the judiciary, "the importance of preserving the right to life, taking into account the nature and extent of the limitation, weighed more heavily in the balance than the economic benefits of the mine."


Download the judicial decision Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors (No 6) [2022] QLC 21 of November 25, 2022.

Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors (No 6) [2022] QLC 21
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