One of the South Pacific’s most vocal climate change campaigners is urging Australia to abandon plans for a giant Indian-owned coal mine in Queensland.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is from the Marshall Islands, a poet and daughter of the Micronesian nation’s first female president, who says the proposed Adani mine and the emissions from the coal it would produce would make Pacific Islands more vulnerable to rising sea levels.  

The Adani project in northern Australia would supply Indian power plants with enough coal to generate electricity for up to 100 million people. If it goes ahead, it would be one of the world’s biggest coal mines, producing 60 million tons per year.  

Its supporters say it would inject billions of dollars into the Australian economy and create thousands of jobs. Australia is a major exporter of coal, which generates most of its domestic electricity.

But environmental campaigners say the mine, owned by the Indian company, Adani, would be disastrous for low-lying islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It is an argument championed by Jetnil-Kijiner, a celebrated activist from the Marshall Islands, an archipelago near the Equator with a population of about 75,000 people.  

She says the effects of rising sea levels caused by climate change are already being felt in the Pacific with crops, homes and even cemeteries being washed away.

The environmental activist believes the proposed coal mine in Queensland would put more pressure on vulnerable communities.

“I guess, for me, I definitely think that the Adani coal mine needs to be stopped because if that goes through, then that will affect all of the Pacific countries. I mean the reality is I have already seem one island go under, right, and we are experiencing tidal floodings that are happening as many as four times a year that are destroying people’s homes. People are already leaving, so things are urgent, things are dire.  I think it is incredibly important that we do not open any more coals mines.  It does make a huge difference,” she said.

It was Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s address at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2014 that brought wider attention to her activism and poetry. She spoke of the environmental peril faced by the Marshall Islands and other Pacific nations.  

Her speech was written as a promise to her daughter that the world would take action on climate change.  

Four years later, her campaign is continuing.

The Australian government has championed the Adani mine.  Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan has told anti-coal campaigners that without fossil fuels “hundreds of millions of people” around the world would fall into poverty. Canavan said the global resources industry had “never been more crucial than it is now.”