On November 27, two Anti-Adani protesters with a placard stating State Bank of India 'No $1Bn Adani loan' unexpectedly barged in and made an appearance on the field of an India-Australia cricket match in Sydney. If you haven't already guessed, the protestors were denouncing the controversial coal project in Australia headed by the Adani Group. The Adani Group is a huge multinational company led by billionaire Gautam Adani. In 2019, the conglomerate had begun construction on the Carmichael coal mining project in Queensland after final approvals by the Australian government.
After letting the anti-Adani campaigners stand in the middle for a while, security officials escorted them off the ground. But the protests weren't just inside the stadium, approximately 50 people had assembled outside the stadium as well to support the stop Adani movement. The protesters' T-shirts read "#StopAdani" on the front, while on the back, they said "Stop Coal. #StopAdani. Take Action.
What is the Carmichael project?
The controversial Carmichael project is a thermal coal mine being constructed in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland. Despite civilian protests, the venture had been approved by the Queensland and federal governments in June 2019 and construction quickly began thereafter.
Initially, Adani had ambitiously envisioned the mine to be one of Australia's largest coal mine but due to regulatory hurdles, the mine has been scaled back. In 2014, the Adani group had assured people of the abundance of jobs that will emerge from the project, specifically 10,000 jobs and Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had touted the same claims to defend the coal project.
However, in 2015, in Queensland's Land Court, Environmental organisation Coast and Country spokesman Derec Davies alleged the Indian mining giant was misrepresenting the numbers. "Adani's jobs numbers were wildly exaggerated to give the misleading impression of a jobs bonanza to offset the risks of this dangerous mine," he said in a statement. The truth, he said, is that the project would create less than 1,500 jobs.
This assertion seems to hold some ground as in 2016, the CEO of Mine Operations, JJ Jakanaraj stated, "We will be utilizing at least 45, 400-tonne driverless trucks. All the vehicles will be capable of automation. When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port. In our eyes, this is the mine of the future." It's quite paradoxical to say that the project will create 10,000 jobs and then boast about how it will be mostly automated (requiring less human intervention).
What is the #StopAdani campaign?
The #StopAdani campaign is a collaborative effort by citizens of Australia and other global supporters to oppose the Carmichael project. They claim that Adani's coal project will forcibly destroy ancestral land, waters and culture of indigenous people, increase shipping traffic through the Great Barrier Reef heritage area and add around 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon pollution into the air over its 60-year lifespan.
Critics accuse the Adani project of potential destruction to nature and wildlife
However, Adani responded by saying his company was "engaged every step of the way" with the Wangan and Jagalingou people or the traditional owners of the land and had "followed all Federal and State legislative processes to establish land tenure for the Carmichael project." Critics and publications have contested this claim by interviewing the Wangan and Jagalingou people and suggesting that support for the project was sought in a coercive manner.
Activists and traditional owners are also concerned that the mining activity would harm the scenic Doongmabulla Springs by draining its underground water source by four times its legal limit. But Adani defended the mining venture saying, "The project must comply with a strict regulatory framework to ensure groundwater is protected. The State and Federal Government approvals for the Carmichael Mine include around 100 different conditions relating to groundwater."
"The mine's approvals also include provisions to protect the Doongmabulla Springs, these state the water level in the springs cannot drop more than 20cm," Adani added.
"We have been working closely with regulators over a very long period and provided scientific information about groundwater in and around the mine to inform how it is managed and monitored. This includes using data collected from our network of more than 100 groundwater monitoring bores work," he stated.
But independent scientists and members of nature conservation groups are not convinced. Christian Slattery, a senior campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said, "Over its life, Adani's mine will drain up to 270 billion litres from Central Queensland's precious groundwater aquifers. Independent scientists and federal government agencies such as the CSIRO have identified fundamental flaws in Adani's groundwater modelling, including the use of highly selective data that differs from on-site testing."
They strongly feel that Adani is underplaying the cultural and ecological destruction his project will entail. In addition, they fear that even a 20 cm drop in the springs' water levels can lead to a complete loss of the Springs.
Debate on the carbon emissions by the coal project
Adani says that Carmichael's would contribute less than 0.04% of global emissions and using Adani's higher-quality coal will mean ending the usage of lower quality one, which is often worse for the environment. Despite his reports and arguments, environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Climate Council remain opposed to the project.
Christian Slattery believes Adani is grossly misleading the public. He said, "Adani has the approval to build a 60 million tonne per annum thermal coal mine. This would be the largest in Australia and one of the biggest in the world. It would also facilitate other coal mines in the Galilee Basin, which is one of the largest proposed expansions of mining on the planet."
The world's climate scientists have repeatedly advised one of the ways to slow down global warming is to stop digging and burning fuels like coal, oil and gas and switch to renewable energy. But Adani still claims that his mine would be a net positive for the environment and which Slattery thinks, "demonstrates yet again the company's pathetic and dishonest attempts to mislead the public."
The controversial nature of the project made it hard for Adani to get funding
According to Mining Technology, more than 30 financial institutions have refused to fund the project which was initially predicted to be an $11.5 billion development. Due to financial snags, Adani downsized it to $1.3 billion in 2018 and decided to self-fund it.
Pro-Carmichael politicians have ensured the Adani project received various proposals for subsidies and assistance for the project by the Queensland and federal government. Many companies have criticised the mine citing the structural decline in seaborne coal markets globally, as a result, certain companies have pulled their support from the company in its the past few years. For instance, in 2015, South Korean conglomerate LG announced they would not proceed with a contract to buy coal from the mine. So, it was decided that most of the coal would be purchased by Adani in India.
Samsung Securities also backed down from the project due to pressure from environmental activists and #StopAdani campaign. Being associated with the project was tarnishing the image of the brand, Samsung and so the company decided to pull support. You would be surprised to hear about the power of their activism as the #StopAdani campaign has convinced 65 companies to stop supporting the project including banks, insurers, contractors and engineering firm GHD.
Adani has never addressed these roadblocks, though. When he was announcing his company receiving more than $1 billion in contracts for the coal project, he mentioned that the nine-year #StopAdani campaign hasn't failed to stop the project. He boasted about the resilience of his project and claimed that construction was advancing on schedule.
According to activists, the #StopAdani campaign has been quite successful
Adani's company had purchased its mining tenements in the Galilee Basin in 2010. Slattery said the only reason it hasn't dug up a single lump of coal in a decade is due to the historic grassroots Stop Adani campaign. He continued, "The Stop Adani campaign is much bigger than a single mine - it has catalysed urgent conversations about the future of thermal coal in public forums and private board rooms. Banks and investors across the world are reducing their exposure to thermal coal as a result of this campaign."
He isn't wrong, as companies are wary of siding with mining projects citing environmental concerns around coal. World-famous insurance company Allianz "no longer offers single-site/stand-alone insurance coverages related to the construction and/or operation of lignite/coal-fired power plants and mines where lignite/coal is extracted", the firm announced in April 2020.
Even international banks such as Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and more have declined to finance coal projects especially the Adani coal project.
How did the #StopAdani campaign succeed?
For almost a decade, the campaign has been an active opposer of Adani's project. They have organised marches and demonstrations against companies associated with the Carmichael project and used social media to amplify their voices to raise awareness. However, the #StopAdani is not a centralised movement but comprises of thousands of individual activists and community groups mainly in Australia. Its reach across the country has made it possible for the movement to fight such a powerful corporation like Adani.
Here is a brief description of the movement on the website: "The #StopAdani movement has built one of the biggest grassroots networks in Australia. Over 100 local #StopAdani groups have kept Adani's coal in the ground by organising thousands of creative actions, and pushing dozens of politicians and over 60 companies to side with the community and oppose Adani. The next generation is helping lead the fight too - young people from the incredible SchoolStrike4Climate movement have organised the biggest demonstrations in support of climate action in Australian history. Their number one demand? Stop all new coal, oil and gas projects, including Adani's mine."
As mentioned earlier, construction on the mine has begun but with the movement gaining traction again, the project might be facing at another halt in activities.