Scientist Tim Flannery warns of climate impacts if South32 coal mine expansion approved

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Scientist Tim Flannery warns of climate impacts if South32 coal mine expansion approved

Prominent Australian scientist and climate change writer Tim Flannery has spoken against a planned coal mine expansion in New South Wales, warning of dire environmental consequences if it is to proceed.

South32 is seeking approval to expand its Dendrobium mine, west of Wollongong, until 2048.

It plans to use a longwall mining technique to extract 78 million tonnes of metallurgical coal for steelmaking from two new areas under Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

“I want to speak against the development and my concerns are really around the climate impacts of extending our coal mining in Australia,” Professor Flannery told a public hearing of the Independent Planning Commission on Thursday.

He pointed to a paper published in April in leading science journal Nature which he said laid out evidence that Australia was approaching some “very serious deteriorations” in key global climate systems, including destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and the drying of the Amazon rainforest.

“If we’re to have a chance, at least, of avoiding those tipping points, we need to stabilise the Earth’s temperatures at about one and half degrees above the pre-industrial average.”

South32 wants to extend the life of its Dendrobium mine until 2048.(ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)

Cutting fossil fuels

Professor Flannery’s presentation to the IPC coincided with the release of the United Nations’ annual Production Gap Report, which calls for substantial cuts in global carbon emissions to avoid dire consequences for the environment.

“So rather than extending our coal mining and our fossil fuel use, the report argues we need to be cutting [their use] six per cent per year, every year, to keep ourselves safe from these dangerous tipping points.”

South32’s mines in the Illawarra region provide around 80 per cent of the coal necessary for steelmaking at BlueScope’s Port Kembla plant.

The companies together have called for the expansion project to be approved to secure thousands of direct and indirect jobs in New South Wales and across the country.

Professor Flannery said an ongoing reliance on coal was not feasible as other countries, including Germany, move towards hydrogen steel production.

“Coal mining is not going to be the future,” he told the commission.

“BHP announced in November that they were going to be investing in hydrogen for steelmaking in China. We can’t be left behind on this.

“If we make the right decisions now and we get on the right track we could have a very prosperous future here in the Illawarra,” Professor Flannery said.

The Dendrobium underground coal mine (represented by the black dot) is seen in the metropolitan special area of Sydney’s drinking water catchment.(Supplied: Water NSW)

Directly affected

Several South32 employees presented to the IPC during its second day of public hearings on Thursday, backing the mine.

“The industry provides opportunities in so many disciplines from operators to engineers, finance, technology, communications, and community engagement,” Luke Oliver said.

“Our region relies on the jobs directly with South32 and those contract partners and supply services.”

Mining supervisor Anthony Dal Santo said he and his three children, who also work in the industry, would be “directly affected” if Dendrobium’s expansion was rejected.

“This impact would be felt across the Illawarra and would also impact local businesses, the community, and the state of New South Wales.

“Dendrobium mine has proved to be a positive influence in the local community and deserves the opportunity to continue.”

The IPC is due to hear the last of more than 80 registered speakers making oral submissions on Friday.

Of the 280 written submissions already received by the commission, 250 have expressed support for the mine expansion project.

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