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Australia rejects a coal mine near Great Barrier Reef due to risk of ‘irreversible damage’

<i>Gagliardi Giovanni/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images</i><br/>The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland has suffered several mass bleaching events due to the impacts of climate change.
REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Gagliardi Giovanni/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland has suffered several mass bleaching events due to the impacts of climate change.

By Laura Paddison, CNN

The Australian government on Wednesday turned down a proposal for a new open-cut coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef, invoking environmental laws and the risk of “irreversible damage.”

The mining project, proposed by controversial Australian businessman Clive Palmer, would have been located less than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the reef on the Queensland coastline, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northwest of Brisbane.

Tanya Plibersek, the minister for the environment and water, indicated last year that she intended to reject the mine and formalized her decision on Wednesday. She said it was the first time a federal environment minister had used their powers under environmental laws to reject a mine.

In turning down the project, Plibersek cited significant potential environmental dangers to the reef, which is already heavily threatened by climate change.

“The risk of pollution and irreversible damage to the reef is very real. The project would have had unacceptable impacts on freshwater in the area and potentially on fragile seagrass meadows,” Plibersek said in a video posted on social media.

She said that during the public consultation period, her department had received 9,000 public comments about the mine in just 10 business days.

The government has been under pressure from UNESCO to better protect the reef and in 2022, it pledged one billion Australian dollars ($700 million) for efforts to protect the fragile ecosystem, including climate adaptation measures and water quality programs.

Last year, the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches for more than 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles), experienced its sixth mass bleaching event, due to warming waters caused by climate change.

The government, elected in 2022, came to power promising stronger action on the climate in a country still heavily wedded to fossil fuels. But its climate policies are rated “insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker, which found Australia is not on course to meet targets to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The government has rejected calls from the country’s Green Party to turn down all new fossil fuel projects.

Central Queensland Coal, Palmer’s company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Hilary Whiteman contributed reporting.

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