MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: What's the point in Abbot Point?

Published by MAC on 2014-06-24
Source: Reuters, Dredging News (2014-06-24)

Four international commercial banks have refused to fund a massive expansion of Australia's Abbot Point coal export port - Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland. They were joined by Barclays at the end of last week.

The banks were responding to a wave of opposition, both within and without Australia, to the proposed dumping of 3-5 million tonnes of soil which would be unearthed during the port's expansion into waters close to the Great Barrier Reef.

Deutsche Bank had pledged to refuse finance for any activity near a World Heritage Site, unless UNESCO agreed this with the relevant country.

UNESCO has just released a report, congratulating the Australian government on its "progress" in preserving the Great Barrier Reef, deferring until 2015 a decision on whether to place it on its list of World Heritage sites "in danger".

The future of the Abbot Point coal port therefore remains uncertain. Given the unusually forthright decision, taken by the banks not to finance the scheme, the odds now seem to be against it.

Already, thanks to a marked drop in coal prices, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and Anglo American have withdrawn their backing.

Australia makes strides in cleaning up Great Barrier Reef - U.N. body

By James Regan

Reuters

19 June 2014

Sydney - The United Nations on Wednesday said Australia was making progress to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, a key tourist attraction that environmentalists say faces threats from industrial and agricultural development.

The World Heritage Committee of U.N. agency UNESCO, meeting in Doha this week, deferred until 2015 a decision on whether to place the 300,000-sq-km reef on its list of sites in danger.

"We welcome Australia's progress in managing the reef," panel director Kishore Rao said in a statement. "UNESCO is confident the overall direction towards next year's decision is a positive one."

Some estimates say contamination from agricultural and mining industries operating near the coastline has destroyed half of the reef's coral cover, but this figure is disputed.

"The committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef," said Richard Leck, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund.The reef has the world's largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong and large green turtle, according to the World Heritage list.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is concerned over proposed coastal developments, including the building of ports and natural gas facilities.

It has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef, which sprawls over an area half the size of Texas, by next February 1.

Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, has said it will not finance a controversial coal port expansion near the reef, in response to calls from green groups and tourism operators.

An Australian government report released last week showed a drop in sediment run-off, widely associated with one of the reef's biggest threats - the displacement of coral-eating starfish.

The report also cited better land management that led to a 28 percent cut in pesticide run-off on to the reef.

Sugarcane is grown on large tracts of land near the reef, while coal freighters regularly ply nearby waters.

Australia is investing about A$180 million ($169.18 million) every year to protect and rehabilitate the reef, says Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

"The Great Barrier Reef is facing challenges but we are absolutely committed to protecting and improving the health of this iconic natural wonder so it can be enjoyed by future generations," Hunt said in a statement.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


Another bank declines to finance Abbot Point coal port

Dredging News

19 June 2014

The Australian Greens have congratulated Royal Bank of Scotland on its decision not to finance the Abbot Point coal port expansion, coming just before the World Heritage Committee is due to decide the fate of the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Royal Bank of Scotland joins Deutsche Bank and HSBC in announcing that they will not finance the Abbot Point coal port expansion to make it the world’s biggest coal port in our precious Great Barrier Reef,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson said.

“I’ll be congratulating these banks in the Senate and urging Australian banks to do the same when I raise the Great Barrier Reef as a Matter of Public Importance.

“BHP, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Lend Lease have pulled out of Abbot Point coal port, as the coal price has dropped with the world embracing renewables instead. 

“These big names don’t want to be associated with this Reef-destroying project that both the Newman and Abbott governments are allowing to go ahead.

“The World Heritage Committee has expressed concern about the Abbot Point coal port and is expected to decide overnight whether to give the Australian Government until next February to save the Reef’s World Heritage status from being downgraded to ‘In Danger’. 

“The international experts are condemning the Abbott-approved Abbot Point coal port and international banks are ruling out financing it.

“It’s time for the Abbott Government to put a stop to this plan to allow 5 million tonnes of dredge spoil to be dumped in the Reef where it can smother coral and seagrass beds.  

“If the old parties are serious about saving the Great Barrier Reef, they should support my bill currently in the Parliament to adopt the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations and to ban offshore dumping in the Reef,” Senator Waters said.

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