Editor's note: This article first appeared in The Big Smoke, an Australian publication. The author, Earthjustice attorney Noni Austin, attended the recent meeting of the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland.
In the Galilee Basin, a remote part of Queensland, Australia, the Adani Group—a corporate conglomerate headquartered in India—plans to build a coal mine that would be among the largest in the world, known as the Carmichael mine. But that’s not all. To facilitate exporting the coal from this and other proposed mines in the area, the Adani Group plans to expand a port on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of what is now the central western part of the state of Queensland, Australia.
For the Wangan and Jagalingou, their land and waters embody their culture. As their senior spokesperson, Adrian Burragubba, says, “Our land is the starting point of our life. It is where we come from and who we are, and it teaches us how to belong. We are connected to our land and everything on it—our animals, plants and waterholes all have a special place in our culture.”
Australia, the world is watching us, and it doesn’t like what it sees.
The decision of the World Heritage Committee, made on Wednesday evening Australian time, signals significant global concern about the Great Barrier Reef’s health and what Australia is risking in exchange for profits from exported coal.
The Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction. Containing some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, the reef stretches almost 1,500 miles along the coast of northeastern Australia. It’s one of the world’s richest and most complex ecosystems, home to thousands of species of plants and animals, including turtles, whales, dolphins and the iconic dugong.
In a remote part of Australia, in the state of Queensland, lies a vast area called Channel Country. Winding rivers with large water holes and multiple channels braid across wide floodplains in a remarkable arid landscape. But every now and then huge floods cause the rivers to overflow, transforming the landscape into verdant wetlands that provide vital habitat for waterbirds, fish, reptiles and mammals.