"We’re bringing the fate and future of Australia’s living wonders before the Court." – Christine Carlisle, ECoCeQ

About the cases

The Environment Council of Central Queensland has taken Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to Court in landmark climate litigation to protect Australia’s living wonders from new coal and gas.

In the Federal Court and on appeal, ECoCeQ challenged the Minister’s assessment of two large coal mining expansions – Mount Pleasant Optimisation coal mine expansion and the Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension, both in NSW.

ECoCeQ has now applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court.

2024 – Application for special leave to appeal to the High Court

In June 2024, ECoCeQ applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court over the landmark Living Wonders climate cases.

On behalf of the small volunteer group, lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia applied to Australia’s highest court to challenge the Environment Minister’s refusal to properly assess the climate impacts of two huge coal mine expansions in NSW: Narrabri and Mount Pleasant.

MACH Energy plans to run the biggest coal mine in Australia until nearly 2050 at Mount Pleasant.

Whitehaven-backed Narrabri Coal plans to keep mining enormous quantities of coal from Narrabri until 2044.

These two coal mines alone will fuel billions of tonnes of climate emissions in coming years.

If the Court grants ECoCeQ leave to appeal, this will be the first time that Australia’s High Court will consider the scope or operation of Australia’s national environmental law.

ECoCeQ President Christine Carlisle says the community group would rather not take this to the High Court, but they feel they have no choice.

If granted special leave, ECoCeQ will ask the High Court to clarify the Australian Environment Minister’s legal obligations when assessing huge coal mines for their grave risk of climate harm.

While Minister Tanya Plibersek says she accepts that coal and gas mines have adverse effects on our climate and environment, our client argues she’s unlawfully refusing to act on that harm.

They say climate impacts on our environment need to be properly assessed under our environment laws.
There are currently 117 new coal and gas projects in the pipeline in Australia – and 35 new coal projects on the Environment Minister’s desk awaiting approval right now.

2024 – Appeals to the Full Federal Court

In November 2023, ECoCeQ, represented by Environmental Justice Australia, filed two appeals to the full bench of the Federal Court, challenging the Australian Environment Minister’s refusal to scrutinise new coal and gas projects for their climate harm.

ECoCeQ argued that, in her decision-making not to change the risk assessment of these mines to account for their asserted climate impacts, Australia’s Environment Minister has not fulfilled her legal role or complied with her obligations under the law. They argued her approach is irrational and illogical and unlawful.

On 16 May 2024, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia delivered its decision to dismiss the appeals in the Living Wonders cases.

You can read the judgements at Environment Council of Central Queensland Inc v Minister for the Environment and Water [2024] FCAFC 56.

2023 – Federal Court cases

Living Wonders before the Federal Court

In 2023, ECoCeQ went to the Federal Court to challenge the Minister’s decisions to effectively refuse to accept the climate risk associated with plans to extend the Mount Pleasant and Narrabri coal mines for decades to come. ECoCeQ argued the Minister made key legal errors when she denied the impact of the serious and irreversible climate harm these new coal projects are likely to cause.

In October 2023, his Honour Justice McElwaine handed down his decision to dismiss Environment Council of Central Queensland Inc v Minister for the Environment (No 2) [2023] FCA 1208.

His Honour said, because of the way the law is currently written, whether or not the Minister should explicitly consider climate change when making decisions under national environmental laws was a matter for the parliament.

In doing so, the Court explicitly noted the considerable public interest in these cases.

2022 – Legal challenges commence with reconsideration requests

July 2022 – ECoCeQ submits 19 reconsideration requests

In July 2022, the Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) requested the federal Environment Minister reconsider the environmental risk assessment for 19 large coal and gas projects under Australia’s national environment laws.

ECoCeQ argued the risk assessment of these coal and gas projects should recognise that their climate impact will harm close to 2,000 nationally significant species, places, and ecological communities includes iconic wildlife like koalas and turtles, as well as World and National Heritage areas like the Great Barrier Reef, the Tarkine and Kakadu.

November 2022 – Environment Minister accepted all of ECoCeQ’s reconsideration requests as valid

This opened public consultation windows which saw thousands of people across the continent write submissions expressing their concerns about new coal and gas, and ask the Minister to recognise in her decisions the irrefutable science that new coal and gas poses a serious and irreversible risk of harm to our living wonders.

June 2023 – Environment Minister accepted the evidence but refuses to act

While the Minister accepted the evidence that these projects will have adverse effects on our climate and on very many protected species and places across our environment, she refused to act on that evidence to change the risk assessment of Whitehaven’s Narrabri coal mine expansion, MACH Energy’s Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, and Idemitsu’s Ensham coal mine extension.

For all Australians, and our children, we’re bringing the fate and future of our Living Wonders before the Court.

Explore the evidence

About our environment law

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act is the central piece of Australia’s environmental protection framework.

It gives the minister a vital responsibility: the fate of nationally significant places, ecosystems, plants and wildlife. The minister must safeguard animal and plant species at risk of extinction, as well as places of deep significance for First Nations people, World Heritage sites, National Parks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, internationally significant wetlands and marine environments.

Read the legal arguments and evidence summaries

Annexure 1: Scientific and expert reports

Read all Annexure 1 documents

Annexure 2: Legal arguments and scientific evidence

Annexure 2: Analysis of research on climate change and its impacts on Matters of National Environmental Significance under the EPBC ActLegal argument report

Annexure 2.2 Part A – Documents on Ecological Communities, Listed Migratory Species, Marine Environments, National Heritage Places

Annexure 2.2 Part B – Documents on Ramsar wetlands, threatened fauna, threatened flora, World Heritage properties

Annexure 2.3 – Fire impact maps

ECoCeQ is a small but mighty volunteer-run community group, and this litigation is an enormous undertaking for them. They thank everyone who has generously donated towards their legal costs so far.