CILEGON, Indonesia (AFP) – Smokestacks belch noxious fumes into the air from a massive coal-fired power plant on the Indonesian coast, a stark illustration of Asia’s addiction to the fossil fuel which is threatening climate targets.
Asia-Pacific accounts for about three-quarters of global coal consumption — even as the region struggles with the environmental and public health impacts of global warming, from deadly levels of air pollution in
Hopes for a cleaner future have been fired by pledges from top coal consumer
”We are moving much slower than the impact of climate change. We are running out of time,” warned Tata Mustasya, a Greenpeace energy campaigner in
Change is hard in one of the last bastions of the dirtiest fossil fuel, however — five Asian countries are responsible for 80 percent of new coal power stations planned worldwide, according to a report from Carbon Tracker.
Commitments that have been made are too weak, analysts say, with promises to halt construction of plants and tighten overseas funding from key financing countries often not covering projects already planned.
And critics say that rich nations are not providing enough help, in terms of financing or technical know-how, to help poorer countries make the transition.
The challenge is illustrated by the enormous Suralaya coal plant on
Burning coal is responsible for a massive chunk of carbon dioxide emissions, making it a major threat to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate deal.
But beyond its contribution to global warming, it also exacts a heavy toll on local communities.
At a village of red-roofed houses in the shadow of the Suralaya plant, coal dust often builds up on rooftops and residents complain of poor health.
”Problems reported in the area include coughing and breathing difficulties,” said Misnan Arullah, from NGO Suralaya Care Forum, which campaigns on behalf of those affected by pollution.
”People complain of irritation to their eyes when they are out working in the fields.”
Resident Edi Suriana said his sister-in-law, who used to run a stall on a beach close to where ash from the plant was dumped, died in 2010 after developing lung problems.
”She was exposed to coal dust when she was working at her stall,” he told AFP. ”The shop was around 20 to 50 metres from the place where they dumped ash.”
Medics were unable to draw a firm conclusion on her cause of death, but Suriana said the family believes it was due to the pollution.
And local fisherman Suwiro blamed the plant for a dramatic fall in the size and quality of his catches over the years.
”I used to be able to catch 100 kilograms of fish every time I went out to sea,” said the 60-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
”But since the sea has become so polluted, we are lucky to get five to 10 kilos.”
The Suralaya plant expansion has received $1.9 billion of South Korean public financing and is backed by its state-owned electricity giant KEPCO, according to NGO Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC).
It is going ahead despite a vow by
A KEPCO representative told AFP the project — which is due for completion in 2024, and could still run for decades — was not affected by the announcement as it began beforehand.
Such cases show governments have ”committed to stop digging the hole deeper — but they haven’t really come up with a plan to climb out,” said Sejong Youn, from SFOC.
‘Need to offer solutions’
The world’s biggest polluter,
But few further details have been released, such as whether projects in the pipeline would be affected.
Nearly 60 percent of
A major complaint from developing nations is the failure to deliver enough aid to help curb carbon pollution, with rich countries falling short on a pledge to provide $100 billion annually.
Going into next month’s COP26 climate summit, a key demand of India, the world’s second biggest coal consumer, is for more international help financing renewable energy and to mitigate climate impacts.
To make progress, the developed world needs to take a constructive approach in its dealings with poorer countries, said Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency.
”It is not just about saying ‘phase out your coal plants’. We need to offer solutions. It’s about policies, finances, technology — everything,” he told AFP.
Despite the challenges, there are positive signs, with many financial institutions in
But activists say more needs to be done urgently.
”Climate-induced disasters are happening everywhere now in