There was recent speculation in the media that PNG Power Ltd signed an agreement with Brisbane-based Mayur Resources to build a coal power plant in in Lae, Morobe province.
The state enterprise admitted to receiving an unsolicited proposal, but denied any progress on it beyond initial assessment.
In March 2016, Papua New Guinea became the first country to submit the National Climate Action Plan (NDC) which confirms its stated goal – run on 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Energy initiatives in Costa Rica have shown that small countries can progress without fossil fuels.
The dark side of unscrupulous development
According to Asian Development Bank report, Pacific Islands have become more prone to flooding due to rising sea levels. Disrupted rainfall patterns and increase in infectious diseases have added to the woes of many islanders.
As early as 2008, atolls were submerging at a faster rate than before. Some like Carteret Island have seen loss of crops and drinking water depletion due to inflow of salt water into their lands. This has forced many islanders to relocate to high lands.
If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t regulated, the repercussions for Pacific Islands can be huge. Global warming could lead to greater economic, farming, environmental and human losses in the future.
What does this have to do with the proposed coal plant project?
Mayur Resources has rights to explore land in Gulf Province, a 120-km stretch near Vailala and Purari rivers. According to its CEO, Paul Mulder, the vast coal reserves in this area are cleaner (3% ash against standard 20-30%). He talks about export potential to coal-starved Asian nations with high energy demands like China, India and Korea.
Coal companies would have you believe that there aren’t other sustainable options to power your homes, offices, schools and factories.
But, is there anything like clean coal?
Fossil fuels – biggest pollutants
Coal production, coal-run industries, and subsequent waste cause damage at every turn. From air and water pollution to environmental harm, the scars run deep. Millions of gallons of water are wasted in the mining process. Mountains are blasted away, forests destroyed and water bodies buried in the open coal mining technique.
- Coal accounts for 43% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Coal plants emits toxic gases like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that cause acid rain. Large amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, leading GHG, are released into the atmosphere every day. Soot (particulate emissions) that lead to lung damage and smog-causing hydrocarbons are other emissions.
- Coal waste – ash and sludge, with toxic heavy metal content, end up in landfills or recycled construction material. High amounts of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury find their way into food sources, contaminating water, plant food and animal produce.
- India, one of the major coal polluters along with China and United States, uses 56% of coal for its energy needs. In major cities, the quality of air has already reduced to 30-35% of established standards. In 2011-2012, 80,000 to 115,000 untimely deaths were linked to soot from coal-fired thermal power plants.
- Mercury poisoning can cause birth defects, brain damages and health problems. In the United States alone, 300,00 infants are born with developmental defects due to exposure to mercury pollution from coal plants.
The scenario is repeated in many parts of the world with heart attacks, lung cancers, strokes, chronic respiratory diseases including asthma on the rise.
Stand firm and protect your future
Countries like Philippines, a low GHG emitter, has chosen the renewable energy (particularly solar power) path for economic growth. Major global banks are reducing their funding to coal companies that contaminate and endanger lives.
Environmental damage can be limited and drastic climate change averter by:
- Improved regulation on coal-fired plants
- Suspension of coal exploration and new mining leases
- Limits on mercury and carbon emissions
- Shift to renewable resources
- Enhanced fuel efficiency standards
Papua New Guinea and other island nations should set an example for the world. Demand that respective governments come up with solutions to reduce pollution and protect the land and its people, instead of adding coal to the fire.