The head of one of Australia’s most controversial coal producers has launched a defence of the maligned energy source, arguing it will play a crucial role in addressing climate change.
Whitehaven Coal chief executive Paul Flynn says as a low cost energy source, coal will continue to have a key role in the economic development of India and China.
And he said improving efficiency, an increasing focus on higher quality coal, and use of clean coal technology will cut emissions from coal-fired power generation considerably.
As a result, he said coal "may well be the only energy source" that can address man-made climate change.
Mr Flynn said coal was expected to still be the dominant energy source in 2035 and the Australian industry, and Whitehaven in particular, would benefit from the growing demand for higher quality coal.
He also took aim at "fly-in, fly-out protesters" who had tried to stop Whitehaven's Maules Creek project in northern NSW.
"At some point they are going to have to accept the umpire's decision and move on," he told shareholders at Whitehaven's annual meeting on Tuesday.
And he said the site of the mine had been logged extensively by the NSW in the past.
"It's not the pristine environment that some people will have you believe," he said.
Outside the meeting, a group of protesters bearing black balloons campaigned against what they say is a culture of arrogance at Whitehaven.
About 35 people gathered outside the Sydney Mint to accuse the company of ignoring the wishes of communities living near mining projects in the Leard National Forest and at Maules Creek.
Stephen Talbott, a spokesman for the traditional owners of the Leard Forest land, the Gomeroi people, said Whitehaven was preventing elders from accessing land for spiritual ceremonies.
"They have no respect for us as Aboriginal people and first people of this country, and they also have no respect for us, our culture and heritage," he told reporters.
Inside the meeting, Whitehaven chairman Mark Vaile was upbeat about the outlook for coal exports and said the miner expects to receive a boost from its Maules Creek mine.
He said global demand for coal will continue to rise steadily, with prices to recover significantly over the medium term.
Mr Vaile said the Maules Creek mine - which is expected to send off its first coal in January - would help make the company one of the lowest-cost producers in Australia.
"Maules Creek is only months away from railing first coal, and within a few years Whitehaven will be one of Australia's largest, and lowest-cost, producers of high-quality coal," he said.