Open Letter: Deep Concern Over $1 Billion Carmichael Coal Mine Rail Link

Chair of the Board Sharon Warburton

Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility Board

We write to you to express our deep concern about an expression of interest to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to seek a loan of up to $1 billion for a rail link from the proposed Carmichael coal mine to the Abbot Point coal terminal. The science is clear, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has reached crisis point due to the burning of fossil fuels and opening up the Carmichael mine and the Galilee Basin will cause widespread and fatal damage to our reef.

Last year the reef experienced the worst coral bleaching event on record. Heat stress from record high ocean temperatures damaged the microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) that live in the tissues of corals, turning them white. Extensive monitoring and underwater surveys have revealed that 22% of the corals in the GBR have died, with two thirds of the corals in the pristine reefs of the northern region suffering severe impacts. This dieback of corals due to bleaching in just 8-9 months is unprecedented.

Bleaching on the GBR is being driven by the warming climate, in turn caused mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas. At present rates of climate change, the recent level of bleaching could occur every two years by the 2030s (Climate Council 2016a; CoECSS 2016). This bleaching frequency will mean that recovery between events will be virtually impossible. Unless climate change is arrested very soon, the future of the reef is extremely bleak (Hughes, Schaffelke and Kerry 2016; Climate Council 2016a).

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a multi-billion dollar economic asset. In 2016, the value of the Great Barrier Reef was estimated to be $7 billion, and in 2011-12, the number of jobs supported was estimated to be 69,000. The continued bleaching of the reef places these thousands of jobs and billions of dollars at risk, with devastating social and economic impacts for Queensland and Australia (Deloitte Access Economics 2013; Jacobs 2016).

We have a clear and urgent choice. The future of coral reefs depends on how much and how fast we reduce greenhouse gas emissions now and in the coming decades. To stabilise the climate and to meet the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, most of the known fossil fuel reserves of coal, oil and gas must remain in the ground (McGlade and Ekins 2015). In fact, virtually all of the known reserves of coal must stay in the ground, given the very high ratio of carbon dioxide emitted to energy produced when burnt.

NAIF faces an extremely critical decision. Furnishing a loan that will facilitate the railroad being built will directly support an enterprise that puts Australia’s most precious natural asset at risk, as well as contribute to the decline of reefs and marine ecosystems globally. Supporting this mine would fly in the face of advice from experts who have collectively devoted over 1,200 years studying climate change, marine ecosystems and coral reefs (Climate Council 2016b).

A decision to support the mine would also be completely at odds with the fact that the Carmichael project has consistently been assessed as being too risky for private investment. Unprecedented recent comments from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA 2017) that climate change must be explicitly considered in decision-making focus attention on the fiduciary duty of NAIF whilst making such a critical choice.

Should you receive a formal application for the rail project, we urge you, on behalf of the 69,000 people to whom the Reef provides a job, the 500 million people worldwide who rely on coral reefs for their food and livelihoods, and the millions of Australians who are passionate about the protecting the Reef, that you make your decision based on the science.

Our recent reef report draws on the latest science and surveys to provide an overview of the current and future pressures being placed on the Great Barrier Reef. We would be extremely happy to brief you on this reef report in person. Please email [email protected] to arrange a briefing.

Yours sincerely

Professor Will Steffen

Professor Lesley Hughes


Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) (2017). Australia's new horizon: Climate change challenges and prudential risk. Accessed at http://www.apra.gov.au/Speeches/Pages/Australias-n...

Climate Council (2016a) Australia’s Coral Reefs Under Threat From Climate Change. Hughes L, Steffen W and Rice M. Accessed at http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/e3449c518...

Climate Council (2016b) Scientist Statement: climate change is destroying our reefs. Accessed at http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/9557d58bb...

CoECSS (ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science) (2016) Extreme coral bleaching may be new normal by 2034. Accessed at https://www.climatescience. org.au/content/978-extreme-coral-bleaching-may-benew-normal-2034.

Deloitte Access Economics (2013) Economic contribution of the Great Barrier Reef, March 2013, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville. Accessed at https:// www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/ a3ef2e3f-37fc-4c6f-ab1b- 3b54ffc3f449/files/gbr-economiccontribution.pdf.

Hughes T, Schaffelke and Kerry J (2016) How much coral has died in the Great Barrier Reef’s worst bleaching event? The Conversation. Accessed at http://theconversation.com/how-much-coral-has-died...

Jacobs (2016) Investing in the Great Barrier Reef as economic infrastructure. Accessed at http://www.wwf.org.au/ArticleDocuments/353/pub-jacobs-report-investing-in-the-greatbarrier-reef-as-economic-infrastrucure-15dec16.pdf.aspx.

McGlade C and Ekins P (2015) The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C. Nature, 517(7533), 187-190.