MAC: Mines and Communities

Is China putting one over on the rest of the world?

Published by MAC on 2015-07-20
Source: Reuters, Statement, ENS, Business Spectator

Compared to the World Bank and US Supreme Court, the answer's surely "Yes"

Surely, you have to give some credit to China! If the regime's recent declarations on cutting carbon emissions, specifically those from burning coal, are taken at their word, then within a generation, it will rank among as the single cleanest (if not the healthiest) state on the planet.

Judge for yourself, as you read some of the fine detail in its latest prognostications.

In contrast, one of the main concerns of the World Bank's IFC seems to be the vainglorious one of rejecting the findings of its own Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, by seeking "absolute immunity" in a US court from correcting grave violations of standards at the Tata Munda coal project in India.

Not that the US Supreme Court has done any better. In a 5-to-4 decision, it has struck down standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb mercury emissions from coalfired power plants. This wasn't because the judges rejected evidence of egregious harm provided by the EPA.

Put simply, it was because this vital reform would cost too much.

China's climate pledge guns for green growth

John Mathews

The Conversation, Business Spectator

9 July 2015

It’s official. Last Tuesday, China submitted its emissions-reduction goals to the United Nations, in the lead-up to the Paris climate summit in December this year. China’s submission, known in UN parlance as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), follows similar submissions made in the past month by the United States, the European Union, Brazil and others.

China’s submission is particularly important because the country has become the world’s largest carbon emitter, as its manufacturing industry has grown to gigantic size, and because it is viewed as having played a negative role at the last major climate talks, in Copenhagen in 2009.

China’s 2015 commitments are much stronger than those it was prepared to make in 2009, reflecting the enormous strides it has made in building the world’s largest renewable energy industry. The goals being aimed for by 2030 (which reiterate and elaborate on the goals announced as part of the historic November 2014 climate pact with the United States) include:

Green growth

Note that these targets reflect a greening of China’s growth (as reflected in its aim to reduce carbon intensity) but not an absolute reduction in carbon emissions. These are moderating but can be expected to keep rising for at least another decade, until China’s renewable power systems start to outweigh the coal-fired and fossil-fuelled systems that have powered the country’s transformation to date.

The submission updates China’s achievements in clean energy by 2014, which stand at:

Targets for 2020, although not included in the UN submission, have already been set by the National Development and Reform Commission. China is aiming for 350 GW of hydro, 200 GW of wind power, and 100 GW of solar power, plus 58 GW of nuclear.

These levels are so far in advance of those of other countries that China can only be described as an emerging renewables superpower. In particular, wind and solar are racing ahead of nuclear, and hydro is being stabilized at just a little above current levels.

Leadership and authority

With this submission, China ticks several boxes. It recognises the authority of the UN and its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as being the primary international forum for discussion of climate targets. It offers leadership for other emerging industrial giants such as India to follow, particularly in building renewable energy systems as a hedge against energy insecurity engendered by fossil-fuel dependence. And it stays true to the goals that were announced last November in the bilateral agreement with the United States.

Moreover, China is using its submission as a means of demonstrating to the world that rhetorical commitments to carbon reduction ring hollow unless they are backed by real investments in green energy and resource systems. China has made it clear that it sees its energy future in a very large renewables system (which it can build through its own manufacturing) based on huge investments in green infrastructure such as a strong and smart power grid, high-speed rail networks, and urban recharging systems for electric vehicles.

It will cost serious money, a significant amount of which will come from the newly launched, China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

What are the implications for other countries? China’s submission makes clear that it views its climate targets as extending well beyond narrow energy goals, to encompass reforestation (which protects soil and inhibits flooding of rivers), clean urban development and green building, and sustainable transport and agricultural practices. In this way it is providing a model for other developing countries that still see green industrialisation as a luxury suitable only for wealthy countries.

China has already had a huge influence on energy choices around the world through the cost reductions it has driven, as learning curves for solar panels, wind power, lithium-ion batteries and other green technologies help to reduce costs and expand markets. This is an unsurpassed mechanism for accelerating the diffusion of green technologies, an arena where China’s efforts bear fruit for all.

Finally, what are the implications for Australia? The recently signed China-Australia free trade agreement has registered the importance of China in Australia’s economic future. Australia’s membership of the AIIB signals that it wants to stay aligned with China’s initiatives. So it will be difficult for Australia to avoid making a meaningful submission to the UNFCCC, even if the Abbott government is reluctant to do so.

But the real threat to Australia is that China is signalling a firm intention to phase out coal – as it has already started to do, with coal consumption falling in 2014 and continuing to do so in 2015. This means that the coal exports that have attracted so much focus from both the current government and the previous Labor-led coalition have a very limited future.

The enormous market opening up in China for green technology is being ignored by a government that is apparently still obsessed with fossil fuels. China’s submission to the UNFCCC provides a wake-up call.

*John Mathews will publish “China’s Renewable Energy Revolution” (Palgrave Pivot) with Hao Tan later this year.

John Mathews is Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University.


"Peak coal" by 2020 could save China thousands of lives: study


16 July 2015

BEIJING - Bringing coal use to a peak by 2020 could save China billions of dollars in environmental costs, slash water consumption by nearly 30 percent and prevent tens of thousands of deaths from coal-related illnesses, a study released on Thursday said.

China's coal demand fell for the first time in over a decade in 2014, and production also dipped 5.8 percent in the first half of this year, largely as a result of a slowdown in major downstream sectors like power, steel and cement.

But without specific measures to rein in growth, coal consumption could continue to increase until 2030, aggravating public health risks and putting pressure on China's already strained water supplies, experts with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S. environmental think tank, warned in a study released in Beijing on Thursday.

"If the timeline for the peak is set in 2020, it will benefit water resources, environment, public health, the transition to new energy sources and the creation of new green jobs," the report said.

Coal accounts for more than 75 percent of China's total power production. While some groups have forecast consumption could peak as early as 2019, both the China National Coal Association and the International Energy Agency have said that output would continue to rise well beyond 2020.

The NRDC has been collaborating with official Chinese think tanks to look at the possibility of imposing a cap on coal consumption, and will submit its findings to the government at the end of July.

It estimated that imposing a 2020 cap on coal use would save the country as much as 251 billion yuan ($40.4 billion) a year in environmental and power generation costs alone.

It would also dramatically cut airborne emissions like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, while the annual number of coal-related fatalities would fall by 48,000 by 2020, and by 89,000 by 2030.

"Business as usual" policies would see total coal consumption rising to 4.8 billion tonnes, up from 3.9 billion tonnes last year, the report said.

The extra demand would not only raise carbon emissions but also increase water use in the sector to nearly 105 billion cubic meters by 2030, 37 billion cubic meters more than the country can currently supply, it said.

China aims to cut coal consumption in Beijing and several surrounding provinces by 83 million tonnes over the 2013-2017 period, but experts have expressed concern that the failure to impose a nationwide cap will mean that production is merely shifted to western provinces.

($1 = 6.2093 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting By Kathy Chen and David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin)

World Bank Group Claims "Absolute Immunity" Allows it to Avoid Responsibility for Destructive Coal-Power Plant

Earth Rights International press release

13 July 2015


The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, is claiming in court that it cannot be sued for enabling projects that destroy local communities’ health and livelihoods, no matter how much harm it has caused.

In April, fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) filed suit in Washington, D.C., against the IFC over the destruction of their livelihoods and property and threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant in Gujarat, India. The IFC has now asked the federal court to dismiss the case based on its claim that it is entitled to “absolute immunity.” 

The IFC provided a critical $450 million loan to the Tata Mundra project, enabling its construction and giving the IFC immense influence over project design and implementation, despite recognizing the significant risks it posed to local communities and their environment from the outset. The IFC also failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harms it predicted and failed to ensure the project complied with the environmental and social conditions of IFC investments , according to the complaint. 

The plant has already dramatically affected the lives of the people who live in its shadow. “It’s even worse this year,” says plaintiff Sidik Kasam Jam, a local fisherman who resides with his family at Kotadi bunder (fishing harbor) near the plant most of the year. “I don’t know what I will do if the fish catch doesn’t get better. I don’t know what the other residents of Kotadi will do. Worst case, our children will have to beg.”

Courts have found that the IFC is not immune from suit where the suit would further the IFC’s mission. That mission is to promote development while doing “no harm” to people and the environment. Ignoring this, the IFC told the court that its willingness to make loans would be deterred if it actually had to follow the laws of the countries in which it operates. And it described the claims of these plaintiffs, the very kind of people the IFC is chartered to help, as “interference.”

The IFC argues that it should not be accountable in court because the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the IFC’s internal accountability mechanism, “provides Plaintiffs with an alternative means of recourse.” But the plaintiffs already went through that process, according to Dr. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangatha (Association for the Struggle for Fisherworkers’ Rights), which is also a plaintiff in the case. "We tried to use CAO for redress. Despite CAO confirming our concerns, the IFC chose to ignore their findings.” While the CAO can make findings and recommendations, it has no enforcement authority.

“Lives of the fishing communities are at stake ,” Dr. Patel added. “We do not know where else to turn for relief."  

“The IFC’s defense boils down to this: we are above the law,” said Richard Herz, ERI’s litigation coordinator and counsel for the plaintiffs. “It argues that it is entitled to act with impunity, contrary to its own mission and accountable to no one, even though the risks were so obvious from the start, and the IFC’s failure to act so devastating for precisely the people the IFC is supposed to help and protect.”

The case is Jam et al. v. IFC, No. 1:15-cv-00612, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Briefing on the IFC’s motion to dismiss will conclude in October, after which the court will likely hold a hearing and decide the motion.

Background Information
EarthRights International Complaint
IFC Motion to Dismiss
Client Stories
High Quality Images 

CONTACT:Valentina Stackl (USA) +1 (202) 466 5188 x100 valentina[at]

Supreme Court Rejects EPA’s Mercury Emissions Rule

Environmental New Services (ENS)

29 June 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5–4 decision Monday struck down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first national standards for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The EPA initially issued the mercury emission standards in late 2011 and said they would cut mercury pollution from power plants by 90 percent.

The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from certain stationary sources, such as refineries and factories. The agency may regulate power plants under this program only if it concludes that “regulation is appropriate and necessary” after studying hazards to public health posed by power-plant emissions, the majority justices explained in their decision.

The worst mercury-emitting coal-fired power plant in the country is Luminant’s Martin Lake power plant in east Texas (Photo courtesy TXU)
EPA found power plant regulation “appropriate” because the plants’ emissions pose risks to public health and the environment and because controls capable of reducing these emissions were available.

It found regulation “necessary” because the imposition of other Clean Air Act requirements did not eliminate those risks.

But the EPA “refused to consider cost when making its decision,” said the Supreme Court, and that’s where a majority of the justices ruled the agency was unreasonable.

“EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants,” wrote the majority of justices.

“EPA must consider cost – including cost of compliance – before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary,” they wrote.

The ruling affects about 580 power plants across the country.

Five of the country’s worst mercury-emitting power coal-fired plants are located in Texas, according to a January 2013 report from  the Environmental Integrity Project, based on data from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.

Four Luminant plants in East Texas – Martin Lake, Big Brown, Monticello, and Sandow – rank in the top five mercury emitters in the country. Harrison County’s H.W. Pirkey Power Plant, owned by  American Electric Power, is in the top 10. Other states with top emitters are: Alabama, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.

The Supreme Court left the mercury emission standards in place pending further consideration by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the EPA.

The majority of power plants are already in compliance with the standards, having met them without reported difficulty since April 2015.

Because EPA has now evaluated the costs and benefits of the rule, the agency should be able to provide the cost analysis required by the Court in short order.

The EPA estimated that the cost of its regulations to power plants would be $9.6 billion a year, but the quantifiable benefits from the resulting reduction in hazardous-air-pollutant emissions would be $4 to $6 million a year, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

Petitioners, including 23 states, sought review of EPA’s rule in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which upheld the agency’s refusal to consider costs in its decision to regulate.

The National Mining Association, which, along with the Utility Air Regulatory Group and 23 states appealed that ruling, praised the Supreme Court’s decision, calling it a “vindication of common sense.”

“The decision effectively puts EPA on notice: reckless rulemaking that ignores the cost to consumers is unreasonable and won’t be tolerated,” said Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn.

“It recognizes what the administration has ignored: that every regulatory benefit comes with a cost, and the value of that benefit cannot be known unless its costs are considered,” Quinn said.

The Supreme Court did not reject EPA’s key conclusions:

Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice program, said, “Our report, ‘Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,’ found that the six million people living near power plants in America have a significantly lower average income than Americans nationwide, and a disproportionate number are people of color. The financial interests of corporate entities in maintaining the status quo should not trump protection of the health of these communities.”

“One in 20 Americans is killed by air pollution, and coal-fired power plants are a big part of the problem. These plants are also the largest industrial source of toxic air pollution by far, responsible for 50 percent of total U.S. emissions of mercury, a potent neurotoxin particularly dangerous to children, Earthjustice said in a statement Monday.

Earthjustice points out that nearly seven percent of all U.S. women of childbearing age, more than four million women, are exposed to mercury at levels harmful for fetal brain development. The EPA’s power plant mercury standards will reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 75 percent.

Earthjustice’s Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities Lisa Garcia said, “The Supreme Court’s decision does not change the importance of EPA’s role in protecting our families and communities from toxic air pollution. The Court gave EPA the ability to finalize these critical public health protections once and for all. Now, EPA must act quickly. Thousands of lives are at stake. Further delay is not an option.”

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