What’s going on here?

In a huge win for campaigners and First Nations people, an Australian court has upheld an appeal against the Santos gas extraction project in Narrabri. The Federal Court ruled that decisions over fossil fuel projects on native title land must take into account climate change impacts. 

What does this mean?

Back in 2022, Australian oil and gas company Santos was given permission for a project on native lands in New South Wales. The proposed project would include up to 850 gas wells, plus related processing and treatment infrastructure, and gas would be extracted over a 20-year period. It has been estimated that the project would emit up to 120,550,000 tonnes of additional CO2. 

The original permission was granted by the National Native Titles Tribunal based on their assessment that the benefits (largely economic) outweighed the potential harm to the Gomeroi traditional owners land and culture.

The Gomeroi successfully appealed this decision and the Federal Court has ruled that where ‘public interest’ is taken into account, this must now include potential climate change impacts. The project will now go back to the Tribunal, which will have to revisit the decision. 

Why should we care?

Besides the immediate benefits to the planet of (temporarily) halting a climate-wrecking fossil fuel project, this ruling has wider implications. 

Previously, the question of ‘public interest’ was most commonly equated with economic interest, and the Tribunal could claim that climate change didn’t fall within their remit. Now companies will be forced to go further to examine the potential impacts of their projects on the climate and on local peoples, to justify the ‘public interest’.

It is also a big win for First Nations people. When considering resource extraction projects, the National Native Titles Tribunal has previously ruled against traditional owners in favour of developers 149 times. Native title holders have won a mere 3 times, most recently back in 2011. This new judgement will give First Nations people a stronger hand when campaigning against future projects. 

Be curious! 

Featured Image by Jay Wennington via Unsplash