Big risks for the world's biggest coal mine

Nandini Velho, an outstanding young Indian researcher who is currently studying for her doctorate in Australia, is worried that Australians might be making a big mistake by launching what could eventually become the world's biggest coal mine.  Here's her take on things:

Anything for coal...

Anything for coal...

In 2012, the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, visited Mundra, a port and special economic zone located in the state of Gujarat in western India.  His trip to India promised “huge benefits.”

But here in India, Mundra usually reminds us of the poor track-record of the Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate that focuses on big energy and agribusiness projects. 

That's a serious worry because the Australian government has now given clearances for a truly massive coal mine in Queensland, known as the Carmichael Coal Mine -- to none other than Adani.

The projected carbon emissions from this mine -- most of its coal would likely be burned in China and India -- would exceed that of 52 different nations.  For instance, its resulting emissions would be four times that produced each year by the entire nation of New Zealand.

The poor track record of Adani is facilitated by well-oiled crony alliances with the Gujarat state government.  This is where Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected and scandal-tainted prime minister, formerly governed.

Political scandals in Gujarat state have become legend in India.  India’s Comptroller and Auditor General recently revealed the state exchequer (finance minister) has lost more than $20 million in just the first phase of the Adani-owned Mundra port.

In addition to such financial scandals, the Mundra port project has had serious environmental costs -- including large-scale destruction of mangroves, degradation of creeks, saltwater incursions, and encroachment of pastoral lands.  

In its pro-development zeal, the Queensland government evidently learned little about environmental risks, corruption, and predatory alliances during its visit to India.  And Australia's staunchly pro-development federal government seems just as oblivious.

Both might be in for some hard lessons if they choose to deal with Adani.

Papua New Guinea's growing forest scandal

Top investigative journalist Jemima Garrett continues to ferret out scandals surrounding the notorious "Special Agricultural and Business Leases" in Papua New Guinea.

Cut and run...  (photo by William Laurance)

Cut and run...  (photo by William Laurance)

In brief, around 5 million hectares--some 11% of PNG's land area--has been given over to long-term industrial leases, typically for 99 years in duration.  Ostensibly the leases are intended to promote long-term agricultural development, but in fact most been snapped up by foreign timber companies more interested in cutting and running than anything else. 

Many of the quick-buck timber companies are from Asia but, in her latest story, Jemima shows the seedy side of an Australian company that's right up to its neck in the growing land and timber scandal.

The SABLs are now the focus of a major Commission of Inquiry.  The outcome of this inquiry could have big implications not just for the environment, but also for the many tribal groups that have deep links to their traditional lands in PNG.