Australian scientists urge banks not to finance Galilee Basin coal projects

Embargoed until 4.00 am AEST
Friday 22 May 2015


Australian scientists urge banks not to finance
Galilee Basin coal projects

Canberra, 22 May 2015 – Nine eminent Australian scientists have added their voices to the call for global financial institutions to stop funding fossil fuel projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Leading Australian climate scientists and a Nobel Laureate have written an open letter to banks around the world, asking that they refuse to financially support the exploitation of coal reserves in the Galilee Basin because emissions from the coal would aggravate global climate change and jeopardise the future of humanity.

The signatories are Professors Peter Doherty, David Karoly, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Matthew England, Ann Henderson-Sellers, Lesley Hughes, Will Steffen, Michael Archer and Fiona Stanley.

The Galilee Basin in Queensland is one of the biggest known, unexploited coal reserves in the world. Opposition to mining and shipping its coal, planned to begin soon, has galvanised the tourism industry, farming communities and now the scientific community.

“Exploitation of the coal reserves in the Galilee Basin is fundamentally incompatible with the international goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees, a limit that if surpassed, will see millions of people suffer due to sea-level rises and increased intensity of severe weather events such as droughts and floods,” said Professor Karoly.

Eleven international banks have already stepped away from projects in the Galilee Basin, the most recent being the three biggest French banks. BNP Paribas, the fifth largest funder of coal projects in Australia, specifically cited environmental impacts for its decision not fund projects in the Galilee.

Nine new coal mines have been proposed in the Galilee Basin, which could see 330 million tonnes of coal extracted each year. The Carmichael Coal Mines and Rail Project is the first proposal being pushed through. At peak production the Carmichael mine, now approaching financial closure, would see 60 million tonnes of coal, and an additional 560 ships, pass through the Great Barrier Reef each year.

“It would be especially hypocritical for any signatories to the Equator Principles to fund these coal mines,” said Professor England. “They pose a very serious risk to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site already on UNESCO’s watch list due to concerns regarding the industrialisation of the coast.”

Media contact: Dr Clive Hamilton, the letter’s convenor, 0413 993 223 (or 02 6272 6206)


An Open Letter from Australian Scientists to the World’s Banks Regarding Investments in Galilee Basin

We the undersigned call on banks and other financial institutions to desist from providing funding and financial services to all fossil fuel developments in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. Development of the coal reserves of the Basin would occur at a time when the world is beginning to shift away from fossil fuels in an attempt to avoid dangerous changes in the global climate system.

Based on current greenhouse gas emission trajectories, global average temperatures are on track to exceed 4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and may eventually increase to 6°C or more. The anticipated impacts of a 4°-6°C increase on the climate are disastrous by any measure. The development of the Galilee Basin would play a major part in widespread suffering over a century time scale and beyond.

  • Millions of people will suffer, die and be displaced as a result of extreme heat waves, sea-level rise as much as 100 cm by 2100 with continuing large rates of rise, and by more severe storms, droughts and floods.
  • Much of the globe’s biodiversity will be affected, with the expected extinction of more than 1 million species by 2050 and the decimation of nearly all coral reefs by 2100.
  • Natural feedback processes in the climate system, such as more greenhouse gas emissions from dying vegetation, methane releases from melting permafrost, and declining carbon absorption from warmer oceans, may lead to warming that is beyond human control.
  • In addition to its role in warming the globe, the mining and burning of coal is known to have severe impacts on the health of miners, workers and local communities.

If global temperature increases are to be kept within 2°C of pre-industrial levels, around 80 per cent of the world’s coal reserves must be left in the ground – 90 per cent in Australia’s case. Limiting warming to 2°C is official policy of the Australian government, yet plans are being made to open up one of the biggest coal reserves in the world in the Galilee Basin. We draw your attention to several important facts about the Galilee Basin.

  1. The coal reserves of the Basin, predominantly thermal coal, are estimated to total tens of billions of tonnes.
  2. At peak production, the nine proposed projects in the Galilee Basin would extract 330 million tonnes of coal each year, resulting in 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, more than the current carbon dioxide emissions of Australia or the United Kingdom.
  3. The likely first mine would be dug by Adani Enterprises’ Carmichael Coal Mines and Rail Project. Producing 60 million tonnes of coal each year at peak production, the project would be the biggest ever seen in Australia. Covering a huge area of 28,000 hectares, the mine would be seven times bigger than Sydney Harbour.
  4. In addition to its enduring damage to the world’s climate system, the Carmichael mine would see millions of cubic metres of sea-bed dredged up from inside the World Heritage Area to make way for more coal ships and a port Dredging and additional port expansion would be detrimental to the Reef not least because much higher sea traffic would pose serious risks of ship groundings and spills.
  5. The Carmichael mine would require 12 billion litres of water each year from local rivers and underground aquifers, enough drinking water for every Queenslander for three years. Even ten kilometres away, water tables are expected to drop by over one metre.
  6. The cumulative regional impacts of Galilee Basin exploitation – dredging, increased shipping, coal dust from mining – pose a severe threat to the outstanding universal value of the reef.

Projects such as the Carmichael Mine would not be able to achieve financial closure without the support of banks to both finance and advise on its construction. Banking institutions are therefore in a unique position to influence decisions vital to the future health of the planet and its peoples. Consistent with the guidelines for responsible investing embodied in the Equator Principles, banks have a responsibility to consider the suffering and irreversible damage to Earth systems that the opening up of the Galilee Basin would help bring about.

We call on banks and other financial institutions to play no part in facilitating the development of the Galilee Basin. Eleven international banks including BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole have already committed not to finance coal mining in the Galilee Basin and any of the related infrastructure, due to its environmental harms. We commend them for taking an ethical stance and strongly urge all banks and financial institutions to follow their lead.


Professor David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

Professor Matthew England, FAA, ARC Laureate Fellow, Deputy Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Emeritus Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers, Macquarie University

Professor Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology, Macquarie University

Professor Will Steffen, Adjunct Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

Professor Peter Doherty, AC, FAA, FRS, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Melbourne, Nobel Laureate and former Australian of the Year

Professor Fiona Stanley AC, FAA, FASSA, Distinguished Research Professor, University of Western Australia and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne, and former Australian of the Year

Professor Michael Archer, AM, FAA, DistFRSN, FRZSNSW, FACE, FWAAS, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales

Share :
© Copyright Clive Hamilton