Who pays for Climate Change?

Down to Earth No.78, August 2008

A DTE workshop at this year's UK climate camp drew attention to climate change concerns in Indonesia.

This August, the third open-for-all Climate Camp in the UK took place in Kent, Southeast England. Its underlying goal - to inspire a social movement to address climate change - has found resonance with like-minded groups holding similar camps in other rich countries such as the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand.

For the first time, Down To Earth went to join the Camp this summer which was strategically set up near the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station. E.ON, the Germany-based owner of the power station, is pressing ahead with plans to build a second generation coal-fired power station after the current operations cease in 2015. The British government plans to build more coal-fired plants following the 'up-grading' of Kingsnorth. The plans have drawn widespread public opposition because they commit the UK to further reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when countries need to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and invest heavily in renewable energy to tackle climate change. The government is banking on carbon capture to clean up coal power stations, but this technology has not yet been developed for large-scale use.

A coalition of UK environmental groups has attacked British high street banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC and Barclays, for investing in coal projects around the world. "People are coming from all over the country to protest against the proposed new coal-fired station at Kingsnorth. If RBS and the other banks don't stop financing such climate-trashing projects they risk a similar public backlash", warned Duncan McLaren from Friends of the Earth Scotland, which has co-published a report detailing bank investment in coal.


DTE workshop

DTE's contribution to the UK Climate Camp 2008 was a workshop entitled "Who pays for climate change?". It highlighted the connections between climate change and the exploitation of natural resources by big businesses and political elites aided by corrupt practices, weak law enforcement and pro-market legislation at the expense of Indonesia's indigenous communities and the poor. Recent studies have shown that Indonesia is a major contributor to climate change and, at the same time highly vulnerable to its impact. Indonesia faces the same problem as many other Southern countries: that solutions to climate change largely depend on richer countries. Without willingness to reduce excessive consumption in the North, Southern countries are being forced to sell off whatever is left of their resources. This situation is aggravated by the debt-trap and corrupt regimes (see separate article on Indonesia's debt).

DTE's one-hour workshop also drew attention to regions such as Papua, which are 'cursed' with rich natural resources, and therefore attract predatory investors. Evidence was presented by the World Bank's 2006 report which revealed that, despite its wealth of natural resources, more than 40% of Papua's population - or more than double the national average - live below the poverty line. The 10% growth enjoyed by the region since the mid 1990s and the increased revenue since Special Autonomy was introduced in 2002 does not appear to have 'trickled down' very far. (see DTE 68). Human Rights groups have also put a special marker on Papua for continual human rights violations against its people by the security apparatus - often triggered by conflicts over access to resources.

The workshop also considered how, on the face of it, prospects for tacking climate change in Papua don't look too bad, given that it has been selected as a pilot region for REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). However, with the government's abysmal track record on respecting human rights and ecological justice, Papuans may end up paying more than they gain in this attempt to save the planet.

Events like this year's Climate Camp help to bring people together to look for solutions to the globally shared problem of climate change. However, the spirit of cooperation among the climate campers at this peaceful gathering was given a sour twist by the heavy-handed police tactics at the event. Fifty campaigners were arrested over the weekend of 9-10th August.

(Sources: www.climatecamp.org.uk/www.worldcoal.org/www.berr.gov.ukGuardian 11/Aug/08) 

The rush for coal

As oil and gas prices soar, coal has become relatively cheap. And supplies are abundant: worldwide reserves are estimated to be enough to last for 150 years.1

In 2005, UK coal imports rose to 44Mt. Major sources of imports include Russia, Australia, Colombia and South Africa, as well as Indonesia.2

In 2005 Indonesia produced 152.2Mt (million tones) of hard coal, making it the 7th largest producer in the world. 3

Indonesia is the world's largest thermal coal exporter, and expects to produce 205Mt in 2008. Around 75% of it is for export. 4 Indonesia coal production will double by 2017 to at least 400Mt, most of which will be exported. 4

Indonesia earned around US$10 billion from coal exports in 2007 and will earn tens of billions of dollars annually in decades to come. 5

The rush to exploit more coal in Indonesia is endangering forest resources and people's livelihoods - especially in Kalimantan.6

1 Guardian 11/Aug/08
2 www.berr.gov.uk/energy/sources/coal/industry/page13125.html
3 www.worldcoal.org/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=458
4 www.coalworld.net/indexnews/info.jsp?id=61694, quoting energy ministry data.
5 www.ecoearth.info/shared/reader/welcome.aspx?linkid=102552&keybold=wetlands%20greenhouse%20gases
6 www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2076562.ece