Damning new report reveals the indigenous communities torn up by coal imports that continue to power Europe and its steel industry
Today, Tuesday 30th March, Still Burning - a network against hard coal and neocolonialism – releases a new report Still Burning. The report shines a spotlight on Europe's continued coal imports in the run-up to COP26. It also tells the harrowing but little-known stories of the communities from Russia, Colombia, the USA, and Australia whose homes and way of life are literally torn up to mine the coal beneath them, suffering widespread human rights abuses.
Coal production around Europe is falling, but in Russia it’s rising to compensate and to extend the market eastwards.
Some European governments have announced coal power phase-outs, but some like in Germany are so far away (2038) as to be almost meaningless. Even in countries where coal for electricity has been phased out - such as Austria - are consuming coal to make steel. In fact in Austria coal-fired blast furnaces, are the single biggest site emitters of CO2 in the country.
There is an urgent need to stop all coal extraction and decarbonise the electricity and steel making industries.
You can download the report from https://stillburning.net/book/
Still Burning concludes that European utilities and governments must bear more responsibility for the disaster that is unfolding in coal producing regions, and so must act to halt and reverse the damage as well as compensate those impacted.
Our high energy lifestyles are fuelled by coal mines abroad forced on people unfortunate enough to live close to large coal deposits. These people rarely see any of the financial wealth raised from the exports to Europe of coal from under their homes. Instead, they are left with all the local harms and often the worst impacts of climate change.
Russia is the biggest exporter of coal to Europe supplying 41% of the coal imported into the European Union in 2017. 76% of Russia’s coal is mined in Kuzbass – an area in southwest Siberia and most of the coal produced there is shipped to Europe and Asia.
Valentina Bekrinova, a native Shor person living in the village of Chuvashka, Kuzbass, Siberia says, “In front of the house is the Sibirginsky mine. On the other side of the house there is a waste tip from another mine. Our village is surrounded by coal mining, and the dust which blows from the mines and waste heaps coats everything…I’m afraid that Shor people will soon become extinct. This is why the most important thing is the protection of our ecology, our rivers, our taiga for the protection of our nation. We cannot live without [them].”
While the impacts of burning coal in power station on our climate receives some attention the human and local ecological consequences are almost always overlooked. But the consequences are dire:
“I wish that people became more aware of where their coal comes from. And about the consequences” says Luz Angela Uriana Epiayu, mother of Moisés Daniel, a young child who is seriously ill with lung disease living next to the Cerrejón coal mine, owned by foreign interests.
The giant open-pit Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira, northern Colombia. The mine is the biggest of its kind in the world and is jointly owned by Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. The Cerrejón mine is in Wayúu indigenous territory and when mining began over 30 years ago, local people were not consulted. Instead their lands were seized, and communities were forcibly displaced, violating their constitutional land rights. The Colombian government has failed to adequately compensate any of the affected communities. Pollution and dust from the coal mine has caused the contamination of water supplies and the air.
Narlis Guzmán Angulo a human rights defender from Cesar in Colombia living near the Drummond coal mine says, “In La Sierra we have always been able to feed ourselves with our agriculture, but that is over... Opencast coal mining ruined everything. It has brought us all this: the collapse of the social fabric, unemployment, death, missing persons, displaced persons, political corruption, the loss of the vocation of our ancestors, the loss of our roots, environmental pollution, disease, prostitution, the sexual commercialisation of children, drug addiction, and poisoned water...”.
The answer to these problems is not to open more coal mines in Europe. True solidarity with people at the front-lines of coal extraction means closing all coal mines globally and to move rapidly away from technology which relies on coal and produces vast emissions.
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