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Fighting coal: The need for cross-country collaborations

Coal has been the key energy source for the industrial revolution, providing amenities that most of us take for granted today—including electricity, new materials (steel, plastics, cement and fertilizers), fast transportation, and advanced communications. But now the coin has flipped and we are trying to stop the use of coal to save our future.

While coal burning is on the decline in the US and Europe, it continues to be used in greater quantities in India, South Africa, China, as these countries have large coal reserves of their own.

The use of coal has many negative social and environmental impacts. Coal mining has leached hazardous chemicals into water sources and destroyed forests and habitats. Coal use has severely degraded air quality and human health because of high particulate nitrous and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, among other toxins. In South Africa, coal use was critical to keeping apartheid policies alive despite international sanctions. While coal burning is on the decline in the US and Europe, it continues to be used in greater quantities in India, South Africa, China, as these countries have large coal reserves of their own.

There is growing discontent amongst communities who oppose coal burning and mining, especially in India and South Africa.  Most of these coal battles have centered around local pollution and rights issues.  Threats of climate change due to carbon emissions have changed the battlefield. Burning coal in one country threatens the survival of others globally. Mitigating climate change will require deep reductions in global CO2 emissions, especially from coal use, and obligates emerging economies to reduce their consumption.

In my experience working on coal campaigns in India and South Africa, one of the most remarkable aspects of the struggle against coal use is the resilience of local communities and their desire to protect their lands, water, air, and health at any cost. Whether it is Eskom coal project in South Africa or Tata Mundra in India, the issues and challenges are very similar. Many times local communities, labor unions, faith groups and civil society groups have provided support to each other on coal-related campaigns.

We must look beyond our national boundaries not only to collaborate on campaigns, but also to learn from each others’ experiences and join forces against “bad” investments in coal.

South African groups have much to learn from—and many opportunities to collaborate with—their Indian counterparts, particularly around the use of legal instruments to fight against coal mining and coal power plants. There is a history of strong environmental jurisprudence in India and it has become an integral part of campaign strategy on coal. In contrast, the legal framework is still developing in South Africa, and the potential (and usefulness) of legal strategy for challenging coal projects is yet to be understood.

The need for a multi-country legal or paralegal strategy has become even more critical with the emerging interest and investment of various Indian coal companies in South Africa and other parts of Africa. For instance, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (an Indian company) has operations in Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa. In Mozambique, JSPL is one of the only three companies to have mining rights in the coal rich Moatize region. Even Coal India Limited has established an exclusively owned subsidiary, “Coal India Africana Limitada”(CIAL), in Mozambique and has been granted a prospecting license for two geological coal blocks by the Government of Mozambique.

Fighting coal projects in our own backyards will not be enough to deal with the current and future challenges posed by coal investments from many such “Southern Coal Companies”.  Therefore, we must look beyond our national boundaries not only to collaborate on campaigns, but also to learn from each others’ experiences and join forces against “bad” investments in coal.

 


 
Sunita Dubey bio pictureSunita Dubey works for Vasudha Foundation in India and groundwork in South Africa. Her areas of expertise are Environmental Governance, International Climate and Environmental Policy in Developing Economies. She has written scientific briefs for environmental cases in the Supreme Court of India, and assisted environmental lawyers on cases regarding hazardous waste, pesticides, coal mining, and forest conservation.

 


August 13, 2013 | Sunita Dubey


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