The coal tide recedes just a little bit further


Bob Burton. Photo: BreakFree 2016

The magnitude of the ‘Break Free’ protests reflects the rapidly growing movement against coal and other fossil fuel projects at a time when climate records are being smashed at an alarming rate.

The ‘Break Free’ series of protests and civil disobedience actions over a two-week period included protests against coal plants, infrastructure and companies in Australia, Germany, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, the UK and South Africa amongst others.  “Our movement is stronger than ever, but to beat the odds, we have to grow stronger,” said Naomi Klein.

The coal industry is also facing challenges in courtrooms from Romania to India, while in Colombia the environmental regulator has suspended the operating permit for the Santa Marta coal port due to excessive pollution.

Just before Christmas last year, villagers in Runcurel, Romania were given 30 days to leave their homes to make way for a coal mine, but now they are suing the government.

In India Ratnadeep Rangari, a resident of Koradi in Maharashtra state, told the National Green Tribunal the health of residents living near Koradi and Khaparkheda thermal power plants in Maharashtra was being damaged by the continued use of high ash content coal. In January 2014 a directive by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) required the use of coal with an ash content of lower than 34 per cent.

The NGT agreed with Rangari and in October 2015 ruled Coal India and Maharashtra power utilities should ensure compliance with the standard. They ignored the tribunal’s ruling. Now the tribunal has given the coal and power utilities until July 13 to explain why their permits to operate mines and power stations should not be cancelled.

In Sri Lanka the government is reportedly considering dropping its plan for the Indian-sponsored Sampur coal plant, the site of recent protests. A state-run newspaper has reported the Sri Lankan Government has suspended work on the project pending a May 20 meeting to discuss a gas-fired plant as an alternative.

The plant has been proposed by a joint venture of NTPC of India and the Ceylon Electricity Board and strongly backed by the Indian Government as a strategic response to the Chinese-backed Norochcholai Power Station which was commissioned in September 2014.

The global coal industry shakeout continues with the South Korean Government’s loss-making coal company, Korea Coal Corporation, is set to be substantially restructured or closed altogether.

The government denies a final decision has been taken and insists closure could only proceed with the agreement of workers. However, demand for coal-briquettes has been declining and the government-owned company has accumulated losses of US$85 million.  The company’s five mines produced just 1.7 million tonnes in 2015, down from the over 300 mines in the country which produced over 24 million tonnes in 1989.

While the coal industry lobby groups work hard to project the illusion they are here for a long time to come, the tide on coal power is receding far faster than they can bring themselves to acknowledge.

Bob Burton is the Hobart-based Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments. (You can sign up for it here.) His Twitter feed is here.