The landmark decision to block an $8.4 billion coal mine in Australia on climate and human rights grounds raises doubts about future fossil fuel projects in Queensland, the country’s largest coal-producing region.

A Queensland court has blocked a proposal to construct a massive coal mine, citing concerns over human rights. The emissions produced by the mine would threaten First Nations people and have massive environmental implications, the judge ruled on Friday.

With an estimated 40 million tonnes of coal generated each year over the next 25 years, the Clive Palmer-owned Galilee Coal plant would have been the largest coal mine in Australia. 

“Climate change was a key issue in this hearing,” said Fleur Kingham, the Queensland land court’s president. The 1.58 gigatonnes of carbon emissions deriving from the plant would pose an “unacceptable” risk for Queenslanders and the owners of Bimblebox, a private nature reserve whose ecological value would be “seriously and possibly irreversibly damaged”, she explained. 

Among the human rights that would be violated, Kingham mentioned “the right to life, cultural rights, the rights of children, the right to property and to privacy and home, and the right to enjoy human rights equally,” adding that she decided “the limit is not demonstrably justified.”

The landmark legal challenge was brought by Youth Verdict, a First Nations-led group of young people aged 13 to 30, in 2020. It is the first example of a climate change-related case backed by human rights arguments.

“This is huge,” the group tweeted following the historic ruling, which marks the first time a court has blocked a coal extraction project on human rights and climate grounds. “We’ve won on all three grounds (human, climate and environmental rights).”

The unprecedented ruling now sets a legal precedent for other proposed fossil fuel projects in Queensland, Australia’s largest coal producer, raising concerns about the feasibility of future projects. 

Murrawah Johnson, Youth Verdict’s co-director and First Nations lead, said the group is “overjoyed”. “The voices of First Nations Queenslanders have been heard. A court has recognised the human and cultural rights of First Nations peoples are impacted by climate change and has recommended that this mine not be approved.” 

The decision came just months after Australia approved new emission reduction targets, following years of climate inaction. In August, the country’s Lower House of Parliament passed a bill that commits the government to reduce emissions by at least 43% from 2005 levels by 2030, entering a “new era” of commitment to addressing climate change. 

Featured image: Murrawah Johnson, Serena Thompson and Monique Jeffs from Youth Verdict. Photo by Darren England/AAP

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