Last week, the first coal mine in Australia (and possibly the world) was rejected by the courts on climate change grounds.
The Land and Environment Court upheld the NSW Planning Department’s recommendation, and the Planning Assessment Commission’s decision, to reject the Rocky Hill coal mine.
The significance of this decision cannot be understated. Coal is the largest contributor to climate change, the effects of which we have felt forcefully this summer – droughts, floods and bushfires. Legal judgments like this need to become more frequent if we are to avert the worst of climate change.
This judgment came just days after Lock the Gate and Western Sydney University released a report showing what will happen if the Hunter Valley does not start transitioning soon. Weathering the storm: The case for transformation in the Hunter Valley found that 5000 jobs and $705m in wages could be lost if global demand for coal declines. This will not happen overnight, and the impacts can be mitigated, but only if planning for alternative industries start now.
The Hunter Valley has significant assets. Renewable energy, agriculture and tourism can all be built on.
A positive transition scenario would see 595 more new jobs created than are lost from coal mining, and local wages and salaries increase by $315 million in 2040.
The good news doesn’t stop there; communities such as Gloucester are looking at both sides of equation. While Groundswell Gloucester was fighting the Rocky Hill mine in court, grassroots group Energise Gloucester has been in the process of developing a community-owned solar project. These help communities take control of their energy future, lowering power bills, increasing knowledge and keeping the financial benefit of clean energy in the community.
While community renewable energy projects are a significant way communities can act on climate change, they’re only one part of a wider trend to replace coal with clean energy. While it would be disingenuous to say that coal mining jobs will be completely replaced by renewable energy jobs in places like the Hunter, the Hunter can play an active role in clean energy, but only with support from the state government.
Climate change is happening now. If communities, local and state governments prepare for this, they can be better off, but it will take hard work.
People across regional Australia already know this. It’s time for our governments to catch up.
Julie Lyford is chair of Groundswell Gloucester.
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