LAUNCESTON: Adani Enterprises' Carmichael coal mine in Australia is assuming mythical status way out of proportion to its actual significance, even before meaningful construction starts on the controversial project.

For its opponents, the mine should never be built because it is not supported by a majority of Australians and aims to send coal to India, a country that says it doesn't want or need imports of the fuel.

For its backers, the project is proof that coal remains a viable global industry and the opening of a new basin in central Queensland state will provide jobs in a region that needs them and royalty revenue to a grateful government.

To many who look at Carmichael dispassionately, it's hard to fathom how such a remote mine that will produce relatively low value coal can make economic sense in an environment where coal demand is likely to fall in the coming decades as the world turns away from high-emission fossil fuels.

The controversial mine in Queensland state has become a touchstone for those on both the left and right of the political spectrum, with representatives of both groups tending to lose perspective on the project in pursuit of wider ambitions.

The proposed 8-10 million tonne per annum thermal coal mine received final approvals last week. Adani has indicated it intends to start construction soon and aims to ship its first coal by 2022.

The company still has to get some approvals related to the building of the planned rail link from the remote mine in the Galilee basin to the existing network, but these aren't seen as controversial as the now-secured environmental approvals.

What may be more challenging is the campaign that green groups will mount against the mine proceeding, with protests and other actions likely to further polarise opinion in Australia.

But it's also worth looking at some of the myths being built up around the Carmichael mine.

The view put forward by some environmentalists that the mine will destroy the Great Barrier Reef or is some sort of tipping point in the battle against climate change is questionable.

While burning an additional 10 million tonnes of coal a year certainly isn't going to help mitigate climate change, it is literally a spit in the bucket, given that world coal consumption in 2018, was about 5.4 billion tonnes.

If it goes ahead, the Carmichael mine would represent 0.19pc of total world coal demand, assuming that there is no change to future coal consumption from 2018 levels.

Where environmentalists are on surer ground is the fear that Adani's mine will pave the way for other large-scale projects in the Galilee basin, and if all that coal is developed and burnt it would be more significant from a climate perspective.

Certainly the pro-coal lobby is enthused by the idea that more mines could open in the basin, but this is far from certain and the promised jobs bonanza is another myth.

Copyright Reuters, 2019