Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Hiding Neoliberal Coal Behind the Indian Poor

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Hiding Neoliberal Coal Behind the Indian Poor

Article excerpt

The opening up of extensive coal reserves in Central Queensland's Galilee Basin for mining and export has been strongly criticised for environmental and social reasons that will be felt for generations to come. If the proposed mines go ahead, it can lead to a blowout of Australia's carbon emissions, deplete groundwater, destroy native vegetation and endangered species, affect the traditional rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou people, and physically harm the Great Barrier Reef and its associated coastal wetlands through port expansion and increased coal traffic (Environmental Law Australia 2016). Environmental and social costs aside, financial assessments have cautioned that new Australian mines risk becoming stranded assets due to a slump in coal prices, increasing affordability of solar technology, and international momentum to reduce greenhouse emissions (Buckley and Sanzillo 2013; Dennis 2015).

Of the six Galilee Basin coal mines in an advanced stage of development, the largest two, the Carmichael and the Alpha, are owned by Indian energy corporations Adani Enterprises and GVK (the Alpha coal mine is owned in partnership with Hancock, Australia) (Rosewarne 2016). The Carmichael coal mine, which would become Australia's largest, has become the strategic and symbolic focus of a multi-pronged resistance comprising scientists and conservation groups (Elliott 2016), grassroots networks of farmers and environmentalists (Lock the Gate 2014), transnational networks advocating divestment from coal projects (350.org Australia 2015) and traditional owners opposed to coal mining on their traditional lands (Australian Brosadcasting Corporation 2015).

At the core of Indian industrialist Gautam Adani's $16.5 billion Australian venture lies a proposal to dig six open cut and five underground mines spanning 28,000 hectares, roughly seven times the size of Sydney Harbour. A new railway line will be built to connect these coal pits to the coast (Queensland Government 2016) as well as a new coal terminal at Abbot Point port (Queensland Government 2015) to ship Adani's coal to Gujarat in India. The mine is expected to yield coal for ninety years and the company estimates it will ship 60 million tonnes of coal per year (Rolfe 2014). Most of the mined coal is intended for the Adani Enterprise's thermal plants in coastal Gujarat. To its opponents, the sheer scale of the combined impacts from the Carmichael mine, rail and port project and calculated emissions from burning its coal (Amos and Swann 2015) means it 'should never have been approved' (Waters 2015: para. 9).

Successive state and federal governments have, however, not been dissuaded from approving the Carmichael coal mine project. As claims for economic benefits loose ground and the massive environmental impact of the Carmichael mine become apparent, Australian governments have advanced the moral claim of helping India alleviate poverty through increased electricity generation to justify their actions. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that 'coal is good for humanity' (Massola et al. 2014: para. 5), disregarding its exacerbating impacts in Australia, and former Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg asserted Australia's moral imperative to 'help lift hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty' (Kelly 2015: para. 5). Such claims that make a moral case for continuing Australia's coal exports assume that private coal mining by Indian corporations will help lift millions of Indian poor out of poverty.

India, the world's fastest growing major economy, primarily depends on coal, which supplies nearly 60 per cent of its electricity (International Energy Agency [IEA] 2015). It is also dogged by energy shortages and inequality both in income and electricity distribution, with 240 million poor currently still without access to electricity (IEA 2015). India has set itself an ambitious target to double coal production by 2020 to boost electricity generation and address energy shortage (Das 2015). …

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