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This Community Group Is Trying To Stop A Coal Mine By Using Climate Science

Can the Paris Agreement be used to stop a coal mine from being built in rural Australia?

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Groundswell Gloucester members rally against the mine in town.
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Groundswell Gloucester members rally against the mine in town.

A court will hear testimony on global climate science and the Paris Agreement alongside the concerns of farmers and local kids, in a legal battle to stop a coal mine in rural Australia that advocates say could have a serious impact on new mine approvals.

The three-week court case, starting Monday, will canvass whether the proposed Rocky Hill Coal Mine should be built in Gloucester, a town of about 3,000 people inland on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

The mine was knocked back in December 2017, but Gloucester Resources Limited (GRL), the privately owned company behind the proposal, was granted the right to appeal the decision in the NSW Land and Environment Court by the state government.

Now, community group Groundswell Gloucester has joined as a party to the case between GRL and the NSW minister for planning, Anthony Roberts, and will fight to stop the project from going ahead.

The proposed open cut coal mine would dig two million tonnes of coal from the ground annually for 21 years, and employ 110 people at its peak, according to GRL.

The proposed mine site.
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The proposed mine site.

Lawyers for Groundswell Gloucester will argue that the project shouldn't go ahead because in order for the international Paris Agreement to meet a central aim – that is, to keep the global temperature rise this century below two degrees celsius – no new mines can be developed.

Elaine Johnson, a solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office, which is representing the community group, said it is a novel argument and that the case could have significant ramifications for how coal mine approvals are determined in the future.

"This is really a landmark case in the sense that this will be the first time an Australian court will hear evidence from a climate scientist about the need to stay within the global carbon budget," Johnson said.

"We’re now at this point in 2018 where we’ve only got a couple of years to start reducing greenhouse gases before we reach a tipping point ... If the court agrees with our climate scientist that this mine should not be approved, and we shouldn’t be opening up new coal reserves at this point in time, then that will have a flow-on effect for a lot of other projects."

GRL opposed climate change being raised as part of the case and argued in court earlier this year that it was "really a complaint about global geo-political relations, the resolution of which this merits appeal is a most singularly inappropriate vehicle".

But the court ruled Groundswell Gloucester could join the case and raise the issue.

The court will also hear from more than 60 community objectors, including farmers, doctors, Aboriginal traditional owners of the land, and young people – including kids.

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Groundswell chairperson Julie Lyford told BuzzFeed News the mine would run against much of what is held dear by the people of Gloucester.

"I have lived in Gloucester for 32 years," she said. "I have been a councillor, I was mayor for two years and I have a very deep understanding of the community and also what is valuable to the Gloucester community.

"What is valuable is the aesthetic beauty of the valley, the visual impact, the quality of life in a rural community, tourism is a big economic factor, and also [ending] the destruction of really critical Aboriginal heritage that has gone on for so long in the mining industry.

"It’s not just the community who are saying this mine is in the wrong place for all reasons – social impact, noise, dust, environmental issues – you’ve got the state government and the Planning Assessment Commission saying this mine should be rejected."

When it knocked the mine back in December 2017, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission – now known as the Independent Planning Commission – found the proposal contravened aims to "protect the scenic amenity of Gloucester township and the broader Gloucester Valley".

The decision acknowledged the project could have positive economic and social impacts, but said they would be outweighed by a decline in quality of life for people who live near the proposed mine, as well as risks associated with noise and air quality.

Some people in the Gloucester community support the proposed mine based on those economic impacts, in particular, the jobs it will bring to the region.

BuzzFeed News has contacted GRL for comment.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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