"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 is taking Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to Court in landmark climate litigation to protect Australia’s living wonders from new coal and gas.
ECoCeQ is heading to the Federal Court to challenge the Minister’s assessment of two giant coal mines – Mount Pleasant Optimisation coal mine expansion and the Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension, both in NSW.
The reconsideration requests
Under a rarely used section of the EPBC Act, in July 2022, Environmental Justice Australia, on behalf of their client ECoCeQ, submitted 19 reconsideration requests to the Minister covering almost all new coal and gas proposals awaiting federal approval.
The reconsideration requests asked her to reconsider the first stage of the assessment of almost all of the pending coal and gas proposals and expansions across the country.
Some of these proposals were recently considered, while others had controlling provisions set a decade ago.
When a matter of national environmental significance is set as a “controlling provision,” that means harm to those places or species must be properly assessed before the project can be approved.
For all of these proposals, however, previous Environment Ministers did not identify climate harm as a risk to matters of national environmental significance.
ECoCeQ provided Minister Plibersek with 3000 documents and spreadsheets listing the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, as documented in thousands of research papers by scientists the Australian government pays, doing research it commissions and authorises, in reports it publishes.
The Minister also received continent-wide mapping evidence showing for the first time the impact of climate-fuelled bushfires on all of the species and places under her watch.
ECoCeQ argued the Environment Minister has an obligation to review significant information, including the government’s vast body of scientific evidence, and account for the detrimental effect of climate change on several thousand matters of environmental significance.
In November 2022, the Minister accepted all of ECoCeQ’s reconsideration requests as valid.
This opened public consultation windows which saw thousands of people across the continent voice their deep 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.
However in May 2023, Minister Plibersek made three decisions on ECoCeQ’s requests, refusing to accept the climate impacts of three coal mine plans: Whitehaven’s Narrabri coal mine expansion, MACH Energy’s Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, and Idemitsu’s Ensham coal mine extension.
ECoCeQ has now filed legal challenges in the Federal Court for two of these proposals, Narrabri and Mount Pleasant.
They argue the Minister made key legal errors when she refused to accept the serious and irreversible climate harm these new coal projects are likely to cause.
This matter is now for the court to determine, but our client hopes these cases will transform how Australia’s Environment Ministers now and into the future assess climate risk – so the climate harm of every new coal or gas mine can never be ignored again.
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
- Expert report from Professor Lesley Hughes
- Expert report from Professor David Karoly
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 Act – Legal 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