MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Climate Change: Mining Communities Demand a Shift from Coal Dependency

Published by MAC on 2004-11-15


A media release and a letter from communities around the state of NSW in Australia who are seeking a phase out of the coal industry in the state, and no new coal mines.

Climate Change: Mining Communities Demand a Shift from Coal Dependency

Media Brief: Friends of the Earth International / Mineral Policy Institute

Monday 15 November 2004

‘The Hidden Costs of Coal Exposed in Australia’

Representatives from New South Wales communities impacted by coalmines are gathered in protest outside a meeting of the International Climate Change Task Force in Sydney today to highlight the hidden costs of coal production and call for no new coal mines in the State. While the International Climate Change Task Force is meeting in Sydney this week to solve the problems of global warming, the coal industry in New South Wales continues to expand at the fastest rate in history.

Despite the State Premier, Bob Carr, sitting on the Climate Change Task Force, New South Wales continues to entrench itself as one of the world’s largest exporter of coal. Protesters including regional, national and international community and environmental groups are angry over the hypocrisy and want to see commitments of governments to address climate change translated into meaningful policies. The groups gathered outside the meeting gave a letter to the task force asking them to reconsider and revoke Bob Carr’s membership until he shows commitment to the issue and halts the current rapid expansion of the coal industry in his State.

“Not only is coal the highest source of greenhouse gas emissions, its extraction is causing major and irreversible environmental damage. Our government continues to entrench an industry that is destroying opportunities that exist for healthy sustainable economies here and exporting climate change to other nations,” stated Bev Smiles, resident of the Hunter Valley coalfields in NSW.

Catherine Pearce, International Climate Campaigner with Friends of the Earth International said “Governments around the world have accepted that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the planet today, but when it comes to meeting the challenge, they are failing. It appears to be ‘big business’ as usual, with the fossil fuel industry the only winner. As one of the world's top carbon dioxide producers on a per-capita basis, Australia needs to do it’s bit on climate change, starting now.”

“Rather than supporting new coal fired power stations, the expansion of coal mining and thus the entrenchment of the coal industry, we need to shift our focus to facilitating transitions from dinosaur industries such as ‘coal’ to sustainable energy sources. Clean energy options can provide jobs without destroying regional life support systems. If we want to get serious about addressing climate change then there must be no new coal mines or power stations in NSW,” stated Bev Smiles.

Coal impacted communities in NSW are not alone. Communities in coal extracting nations across the globe are paying the hidden costs of coal through damage to rivers and water supply, loss of biodiversity and major subsidence, poor air quality, noise, vibration, loss of amenity. Workers in the coal industry have some of the highest fatality rates of any professions. Coal is considered a cheap fuel without accounting for local impacts or the long-term impacts of global warming, damage to communities, rivers, landscapes, air quality and biodiversity.

“The hidden costs of coal stretch from the communities where it is extracted to those communities and countries who will disproportionately suffer the earth changing impacts of climate change. If we integrate the hidden costs of these operations into the industry, it is clearly not only unsustainable but uneconomical.“ stated Techa Beaumont of MPI.

“The goals of the International Climate Change Task Force will be very difficult to achieve while ever the coal industry is allowed to expand and entrench itself in the global economy of the future. It is also essential that we plan a just transition out of coal for coal dependent communities such as those in the Hunter Valley, ” stated Stephanie Long, Climate Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Australia.

Contacts:

Bev Smiles: + 61 (0)405 266 614
Catherine Pearce, Friends of the Earth International +44 (0)7811 283 641
Techa Beaumont, Mineral Policy Institute, Australia: +61 (0)409 318 406
Stephanie Long, Friend of the Earth Australia: + 61 (0)414 136 461

Friends of the Earth International is the largest grassroots environmental network in the world with more than one million members in over 70 countries.


Letter provided to the International Climate Change Task Force in Sydney on November 15th 2004

Dear members of the International Climate Change Task Force,

We are writing to you as members and supporters of communities affected by coal mining in New South Wales.

We wish to alert you to the problems we are facing – problems about which NSW Premier Bob Carr, a member of your Task Force, has done little or nothing.

We share the Task Force’s concern at the alarming increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the threat of global warming. But given these concerns, we believe there is a degree of hypocrisy inherent in Premier Carr’s words and deeds.

Coal mining is one of the key reasons that Australia is such a major contributor to the world's greenhouse gas emissions problem.

Far from seeking to phase out or reduce coal mining, Premier Carr recently announced plans for new coal-fired power stations that will lock in regressive and polluting mining and energy industries for decades to come.

Five new coal mines and 8 expansions of existing mines are currently being constructed in NSW, and 11 new mines are being proposed. The offshore emissions from NSW coal are nearly as high as Australia's entire stationary energy sector emissions.

Open-cut mining in the Hunter region, which covers 68,000 hectares, interferes with groundwater systems and base flows to rivers; produces surface water salinity and acidity; releases large amounts of methane; destroys critical areas of remnant vegetation; and creates unmanageable dust problems.

The subsidence caused by longwall mining, largely in Sydney's south-west, can be devastating to the local environment: sandstone river beds crack, resulting in huge water losses, killing fish and wreaking permanent ecosystem damage. The Central Coast region is also affected by subsidence and damage to groundwater systems.

The task of rehabilitating these areas is a very long term one, and the contribution of coal mining companies to this effort is entirely inadequate. The consequences for our waterways and biodiversity could be irreversible unless urgent action is taken.

Our so-called "green Premier" is doing nothing to halt the coal corporations' destruction of the Hunter and their huge contribution to global warming. As a matter of urgency, Premier Carr should commit to undoing the damage his Government has caused, or else he should be required to justify his continuing presence on this Task Force.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Rhiannon Greens MLC, NSW Parliament
Ian Cohen Greens MLC, NSW Parliament
Wendy Bowman Minewatch
Christine Phelps Anvill Hill Project Watch Association
Chris Bowman Bickham Coalmine Action Group
Jan Davis Hunter Environment Lobby
John Drinan Singleton
Jean Whittaker Mandalong Progress Association
Kathe Robinson Georges River Environmental Action Team
Wilma Corbet Central Coast Minestop
Bev Smiles Mudgee District Environment Group
Steve Phillips Rising Tide
Cate Faehrmann Nature Conservation Council of NSW

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