“Coal is Not the Option for PNG”

In recognition of the Global Climate Strike that takes place all over the world from the 20th to the 27th  September 2019, we at the Center for Environmental Law & Community Rights Inc (CELCOR Inc) would like to make a statement in light of activities/projects that are currently taking place in Papua New Guinea, that impede the efforts of ensuring proactive actions in mitigating for climate change, which is an emergency in our coastal areas and islands as well as the Pacific.

CELCOR Inc launched its ‘Say No to Coal’ Campaign last year and we have been adamant in advocating for the ban of mining, production and usage of coal in Papua New Guinea.

In light of the above mentioned Global Strike and the current news articles and statements in the media regarding planned coal production and use, we felt it imperative that we also give light to the facts of coal production and its effects.

Having experienced climate change issues firsthand and being fully aware of the impacts of coal production and development we strongly condemn the move by certain members of parliament in collaboration with Australian and Chinese companies, in support of the coal powered facility development plan to provide an energy source in the Morobe and Simbu Provinces.

As reported on LOOP PNG on the 2nd of September and facilitated by the Department of Trade Commerce and Industry, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Elimbari Limestone & Cement Ltd and a Chinese corporation, Dongfang Electric International Corporation, which highlighted a number of projects that were to be implemented in the highlands province of Simbu.

It’s saddening and frustrating to note that, amongst the four projects that were signed, a Solar, Hydro and Coal Fired Power Project is also included. Whilst the other sources of energy that the MOU signed on to are clean and renewable, coal has been included as a source of energy, when solar energy and hydropower are adequate sources of energy, renewable and has minimal negative impact on the environment. 

Coal is a fossil fuel, and when burnt to produce energy, it releases the greenhouse gases of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which means that coal-fired power plants release more greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced than any other electricity source. If the case is that the Simbu energy facility will be utilizing clean coal technologies, as stated and promoted by the former Energy Minister Sam Basil (G. Kenneth, (2019) ‘Energy Minister on Mayur Bandwagon’ Post Courier, March 22) for Mayur Resources, one must understand that ‘clean coal’ is a concept but not a complete reality.

No matter how it is sold, there is no such thing as clean coal or clean coal production. Clean coal is an industry term that refers to increasing the efficiency of coal mining and making power plants that use coal for energy generation more environmentally friendly. Clean coal technology seeks to reduce harsh environmental effects by using multiple technologies to clean coal and contain its emissions. Carbon dioxide is still released in the environment in the clean coal process, and other harmful emissions are created as well.

Clean coal is the idea of capturing the emissions and storing them away instead of releasing them into the air. After capture, secure containers are used to collect the Carbon dioxide to prevent or stall its re-entry into the atmosphere.

In addition to air pollution that coal fired power facilities cause through the emission of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, water pollution is a real threat as result of the hazardous waste that will be produced from this power plan., For instance, the mercury emission that can travel long distances (in the air), will eventually land in the water and land thus creating unsafe and hazardous water sources for many people living within and down the streams.

Mr. John Anuabo from the Karamui Conservation and Resource Management Programme Inc and a Karamui local, raised his concern that, if the coal fired power plant is in production, what would be the environmental and social impact of this facility, especially in terms of its waste disposal methods.

The two popular methods of waste disposal for coal combustion substances (coal waste) are: 1) Surface Impoundments, which are wet ponds where waste ash is stored and 2) Landfills, where the coal combustion ash is collected and stored.

The risk of these two forms of waste disposal is that leaching of the toxic waste can cause contamination in the ground water and surface water, which will be devastating to the natural and rich biodiversity that Morobe and Simbu are uniquely rich in. In addition to Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrous Oxide as a byproduct of the burning of coal, other harmful chemicals are found in the waste, that can be very harmful to the human populace as well as the surrounding environment. It has been highly documented that massive spills and leaching of such waste management disposal ponds are classified as “high hazard” as they can cause significant property and environmental damage, as well as injuries and death (in some cases). Furthermore, under certain conditions, impoundment ponds are also known to leach contaminants like arsenic into the soil and groundwater, potentially poisoning freshwater sources.

This is highly disturbing as in Papua New Guinea, as we still lack the guiding policy that governs the disposal of such hazardous waste and even in highly developed coal powered nations like the United States of America, Great Britain and Europe for instance, there are recommendations that coal combustion waste management, needs to be guided by legislation, something that PNG lacks.

We must bear in mind that that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a signatory to international agreements (Kyoto Protocol & COP21) on climate change where we agreed to adopt mechanism to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Although PNG does not emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, as a member country, PNG must take the responsibility in contributing as a nation to mitigating this universal threat, by identifying ways we can to minimize global warming and climate change.

As party to the Paris Agreement, PNG’s climate action plan commits it to fully shift to renewable energy by 2030 and embrace a future of clean and renewable energy. Coal is dirty energy and is the leading contributor to environmental pollution and must be minimized at all cost. Hence, the reason all countries agreed to commit themselves to reduce emission or adopt mechanism to mitigate air pollution.

Additionally, as member of the Pacific Islands Forum we have recognized that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, food security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.” Hence this move towards coal is a total slap on the face of our Pacific Island brother countries that are presently struggling against a catastrophic rise in the sea level that threatens coastal communities and undermines water and food security.

As a big brother in the Pacific region, it is worthy to note that in the recently hosted Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Tuvalu in August this year, there was an urgency in the addressing of the heightening climate change emergency facing our Pacific region, as well as the world. PNG has an important role to play in the region and more so in conducting itself in the best interests of its people and the region.

This will be a hard fact to reconcile if the Papua New Guinea Government is committed to opening coal powered facilities in the city of Lae (Morobe Province) and the Simbu Province, especially when PNG has an abundance of renewable and clean energy choices to choose from, apart from coal.

Papua New Guinea is promoting coal when we are currently living in the world that is shying away from the dirty impact and effects of coal and moving on to cleaner technologies for energy production and the move by the Department of Trade, Commerce & Industry to push for coal as a source of energy is condemnable and should not be entertained, when the world is facing a climate emergency and it should be our duty as citizens of the world, the Pacific and as Papua New Guineas, to act accordingly by allowing ourselves to be innovative and create greener technologies that have minimal adverse impact to the environment and human health.

Accordingly, we say that any coal development project should not be encouraged in PNG. We this generation, have an obligation to leave a clean environmental footprint for the well-being of our future generations! Leave dirty coal in the ground and develop our country in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Our actions and decisions now will catch up with us sooner than later

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