This file photo from 2013 shows a wheel loader moving coal at a power plant in Pacitan, East Java. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)
In November 2014, you committed to playing a key role in the phasing out of all public subsidies to fossil fuel use at the European level, and announced that France would no longer support the export of coal projects. As my organization has been working with many communities that have been ravaged by the impacts of coal, we applauded this progressive decision.
As a civil society organization in a developing country whose energy needs are projected to grow rapidly in the coming decades, we put faith in the capacity of France to lead the international transition to a zero-carbon economy. But we understand that this progressive stance may about to be reversed through the adoption of exemptions pushed forward in order to ensure Alstom, France’s main manufacturer of coal-power technologies, would be able to keep exporting to countries like Indonesia.
Already, Alstom’s push to keep coal on the energy agenda here has led to investigations by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). A politician was jailed last year for accepting bribes over the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Lampung.
In an ironic twist, your government would claim to be reneging on its commitment in Indonesia’s own interest, presuming coal burning is key to our development and a way for the country to move out of energy poverty.
But we are not begging for France to bring us electricity. Rather, we are standing up against the building of any new coal power plant. We don’t want to follow the development path followed by many countries, including France, and make the same mistakes. Maybe coal was once the cheapest source of energy. But that was at a time when natural resources were considered plentiful, ecosystems were not considered important and all human lives did not have the same value.
The times have changed, and today, we know coal is not cheap, as it comes at the price of the irreversible destruction of natural ecosystems and human health, causing cancer, stroke, heart disease, upper respiratory disease and premature deaths. All without actually fulfilling the promise of electricity access for all.
In our country, many communities, especially indigenous people, are already paying a steep price for coal extraction and coal burning. According to the World Health Organization, more than seven million people around the world died in 2012 from air pollution, roughly double the mortality rate for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In India alone, emissions from coal resulted in 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases in 2011-12, according to a study done by Urban Emissions. Will you tell us that such impacts really are the price to pay for a brighter future?
We don’t have to follow France’s development path. Our country has an outstanding potential for renewable energy — geothermal, tidal wave, micro-hydro, solar — and can do without coal.
With less than five months to go before the Paris conference on climate change, we urge you to keep in mind that coal is a key driver of this phenomenon. From its extraction to its combustion in power stations, coal will never be “clean,” whatever the technology used.
Science tells us that our global carbon budget does not allow us to build new coal power plants, except with operational carbon capture and storage (CCS). By committing to stop supporting the export of coal power plants, except to those with operational CCS, France not only demonstrated international leadership on this issue, but also sent a strong signal that the world was ready to meet the climate challenge.
A few months ago in Manila, you called for international solidarity against climate change. Today, you have the opportunity to show that you were serious — by preventing French companies from exporting coal technologies and by supporting the development of decentralized, renewable energy projects.
Mr. President, we trust you will uphold your commitment, and that you will be the climate leader we need on the international stage to push other countries to also stop the proliferation of coal projects. Abetnego Tarigan is the executive director of Walhi — Friends of the Earth Indonesia