The hidden social and environmental cost of coal
New report outlines issues in supply chains of big energy firms
A new report from the Coal Action Network has this week highlighted the social injustices and environmental destruction in the UK's supply chain for coal.
Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel and yet still accounts for 24% of electricity produced in the UK. 70% of the coal burnt is currently imported from a variety of countries including Russia, the USA and Columbia.
The UK Government announced in November 2015 that it intends to close all coal power stations by 2025.
However the authors of the report entitled Ditch Coal believe that due to the extreme localised human and environmental damages caused by coal infrastructure, that this is not fast enough.
Anne Harris of the Coal Action Network told Ethical Consumer:
“Ten years is too long for the communities most directly affected by coal infrastructure to wait.
Ditch Coal calls on the UK Government to take decisive action and announce a complete and legally binding coal phase out, as soon as is practically achievable, and an enforced ban on coal mining in the UK.
Ditch Coal calls for a complete, early and legally binding coal phase out, and an end to opencast mining in the UK. ”
The report also found that there is also a serious lack of transparency throughout the whole supply chain. Although Ditch Coal's authors tried to follow the coal from its point of extraction to point of consumption this was rarely possible.
Anne Harris said that this problem:
“obscures the human impacts of the coal that is burned in power stations, and allows energy companies to hide the true impacts of their sourcing with various layers of commercial confidentiality and weak claims of Corporate Social Responsibility.”
Countries Supplying the UK with Coal
Russia is the biggest exporter of coal to the UK, supplying 43% of thermal coal imports. In Russia's main coal producing region, the Kuzbass area of Siberia, mining is devastating indigenous communities and their cultures.
Colombia supplies the UK with 33% of thermal coal imports. Companies exporting coal to the UK have been implicated in financing paramilitary mass murders, executions, and disappearances. Whole villages have been forcibly evicted to make way for mines, with insufficient relocation plans.
Coal from the USA makes up 19% of imports of thermal coal to the UK. Extremely destructive mining operations are destroying huge swathes of land and ecosystems, and poisoning local people.
Of all the coal consumed in the UK, 31% is mined in the this country, where opencast mine applications are fiercely resisted by local residents because of the irreparable damage to landscape, negative health impacts, increased HGVs on the roads and lack of adequate consideration and consultation of local people amongst other issues.
Of the Big Six energy companies, five are featured in the report:
- EDF owns Cottam and West Burton Power Stations and EDF Group is involved in coal trading,
- E.On owns Ratcliffe on Soar power station as well as commodities trading and marine freight.
- SSE owns Fiddlers Ferry and Ferrybridge power stations, Ferrybridge is scheduled to close in March 2016.
- Scottish Power owns Longannet power station which has also announced closure in March 2016.
- RWE npower owns Aberthaw power station which is more reliant on UK mined coal than many of the others.
What Can I do?
One positive response to the problems associated with coal mining has been the growth of the divestment movement. Divestment campaigns are working to get banks and organisations with investments in fossil fuels to sell their shares.
The divestment movement is growing, so far eight British universities and many other institutions have divested from coal and other fossil fuels.
Global Divestment Day 2015, photo credit: FOE
You can participate in the divestment movement with Move Your Money's national campaign which encourages individuals to pressure their banks through the 'Divest!' campaign. The campaign is telling the big five banks, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, RBS and Santander - also the biggest investors in fossil fuels - to get our money out of fossil fuels.
If you currently bank with one of the ‘big 5’, Move Your Money is asking you to email your bank pledging to move your money if the bank fails to get out of fossil fuels.
You can also swap your home and business electricity supplier to a green supplier to support renewable energy companies instead of those using fossil fuels.
See our guide to energy companies for more information.
The Coal Action Network and a Russian activist will be touring the UK in the spring holding public events describing the stories of those living in the coal producing regions.
You can find out more on the Coal Action Network website.
The full Ditch Coal report can be downloaded from www.coalation.org.uk/ditchcoal