Australian company’s coal plans are a pollution and a health risk to local communities in Papua New Guinea

While the rest of the world seeks to reduce dependence on coal power to meet the Paris Agreement Climate targets and ultimately phase out coal use by 2040, Papua New Guinea has plans to build its first coal-fired power plant with developments led by an Australian company, Mayur Resources. The project has seen significant push back from the local community, as the plant is expected to negatively impact the local community and ecosystem.

A newly-released report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) quantifies one aspect of this: the health and economic impact of air pollution from the 52 megawatts (MW) proposed Lae Enviro Energy Park (EEP) coal-fired power plant, and the potential 200 MW expansion plan.

Air pollution is considered the largest environmental threat to human health. Coal is one of the major stationary emitters of pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulate matter, and Mercury — a contributing factor to countries seeking to minimize their dependence on the fuel.

The report found that under a 30-year operating life, the cumulative air pollutant emissions from the 52-MW Lae EEP coal plant would result in approximately 30 avoidable deaths, 890 years of life lost, and 5,900 work absences taken due to sickness. If the company expands the coal-fired power plant to 200 MW, health impacts significantly increase to approximately 115 premature deaths, 3,500 years of lives lost, as well as 23,500 sick days off work.

Such health impacts result in healthcare spending and loss of economic productivity. Over 30 years, the report estimates that the cost of long term exposure to air pollution from a 52 MW Lae EEP would be equivalent to 10.9 million Australian Dollars (AUD), or 25.5 million Papua New Guinea Kina (PGK). The cumulative economic cost of a 200 MW Lae EEP plant expanded complex totals AUD 43.1 million (PGK 101.4 million) — more than Papua New Guineaʼs entire GDP in 2020.

All of these health and economic impacts could be completely avoided if Mayur Resourcesʼ coal-fired power plant is not built, concludes the report. Author, Isabella Suarez adds: “The conversation in many developing countries must be around moving from coal-to-clean. Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to avoid all of this and move straight into capitalizing on its renewable energy potential.”

Samantha Kuman, Advocacy Officer at the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) Inc, said:

The potential impacts of the Lae coal-fired power plant are not widely known in PNG because the public consultative process was hugely by-passed by Mayur Resources and the relevant state, provincial and district authorities. This is a timely report which provides an expert analysis of the potential harm that can be inflicted on the city of Lae, its population and the surrounding districts and communities as well.

Dina Hopstad Rui, Campaigns Director at Jubilee Australia, said:

“This report serves as a reminder of the reckless behaviour of many Australian extractive companies in PNG. The world is moving away from coal, and an Australian company should not push it onto PNG. People in Australia donʼt support coal in our own backyard ‒ 82% support a phase-out of coal fired power stations ‒ and we certainly donʼt want to push it on our neighbours. ”

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) is an independent research organisation focused on understanding the trends, causes, health impacts and solutions to air pollution. CREA uses scientific data, research and evidence to support the efforts of governments, companies and organizations worldwide in their efforts to move towards clean energy and clean air, believing that effective research and communication are the keys to successful policies, investment decisions and advocacy efforts. CREA was founded in December 2019 in Helsinki and has staff in several Asian and European countries.

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