Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Oxfam have written a report which claims coal power will create more poverty. In my opinion this claim is a disgusting direct attack on the coal fired industrialisation, jobs and opportunities currently lifting a growing number of people out of chronic poverty in Asia and Africa.
More coal equals more poverty: Transforming our world through renewable energy
Tackling poverty and inequality means bringing an end to the fossil fuel era, beginning with no new coal and supporting renewable energy for all.
More coal will drive more people into poverty through the devastating consequences of climate change and the direct toll of coal mining and burning on local communities, including loss of land, pollution, and health impacts.
With the vast majority of energy-poor households in developing countries living beyond the reach of the electricity grid, coal is categorically unsuited to addressing the challenges of energy poverty. Renewables are the clear answer to bringing electricity to those who currently live without it, and are already bringing transformative benefits for communities around the world.
Recognition of coal’s immense toll on vulnerable communities and why more coal will entrench poverty has been largely absent from the battle over climate and energy policy in Australia.
Also missing from the debate has been an acknowledgement of coal’s inability to meet the energy needs of the world’s
poor, and an understanding of the scale and pace of action necessary from Australia to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement and help limit warming to 1.5°C — a matter of survival for many vulnerable countries.
As an international development agency working in more than 90 countries, Oxfam has observed directly the impacts of coal and climate change on communities worldwide, as well as how renewable energy is changing lives, raising incomes, improving health and education, and powering inclusive development.
The point Oxfam miss is only poor people are vulnerable. Coal makes poor people rich, by allowing their nations to industrialise. The rise of China, the industrial revolution in Europe, the rise of coal fired industry in America – the evidence that coal powered industrialisation leads to wealth is indisputable.
Rich people are not vulnerable to climate change. Rich people can afford tornado proof houses, and decent sea walls. When their crops fail, they can buy more food from elsewhere.
It is not possible to run a modern industrial society off non-hydro renewables. You can start industrialisation using hydro-power, but as industrial demand rises, you rapidly hit a point when water resources are stretched – society has to choose between industrial and agricultural users. This is currently happening in parts of Africa. The only way to solve this problem without hurting your economy is to build cheap power plants. King coal is still the cheapest non-hydro power source. As formerly poor countries like rapidly industrialising Tanzania have discovered, coal is the proven route to escaping long term poverty.
Over 60% of Africans without Power – Will Build Coal Power Plants
AUGUST 12, 2014
President Obama wants to control the use of coal abroad for electricity generation, but he is meeting with opposition. From developed countries such as Japan and Germany to developing countries such as China and India, coal is being used for electricity generation at an increasing rate. Even Africa, with over 60 percent of its population without power, has told the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last week that it will use coal to provide its residents with power, just as the developed world used the fuel for industrialization. As Tanzanian Minister of Power Sospeter Muhongo said, “We in Africa, we should not be in the discussion of whether we should use coal or not. In my country of Tanzania, we are going to use our natural resources because we have reserves which go beyond 5 billion tons.”[i] His country currently uses so little coal that at present rates, its supplies would last 50,000 years.
Tanzania is a good example of an industrializing nation in Africa that is attempting to move its population forward, and provide the benefits that electrification brings. Currently, only 24 percent of the population is connected to the grid (and only 7 percent of rural residents), and in order to develop clean water systems, pumping capacity is needed.[ii] The government’s goal is to lift per capita income from its current $640 per annum to at least $3000. Electrical access is key to this goal.
Another proof that coal is the solution to poverty, is the energy mix used for Aluminium smelting.
Aluminium is utterly essential for our modern life – it is used in everything from kitchen tinfoil, corrosion resistant window frames, the bodywork of lightweight cars, aircraft bodies, its a long list.
But Aluminium smelting is incredibly energy intensive. Aluminium is smelted by running a gigantic electric current through molten ore – there is no other known industrial means of smelting Aluminium. Aluminium smelters are always looking for a way to reduce their energy costs, because their razor thin profits utterly depend on having cheaper power than their competitors. Aluminium smelters have no ideological commitment to a particular source of energy. If wind power or solar power provided a cheaper alternative, they would not let some misplaced loyalty to fossil fuels stand in the way of a bigger annual bonus.
As you can see from the graph at the top of the page, Aluminium smelters choose hydro first, coal second. Renewables don’t even feature on the list.
Oxfam’s attack against coal in my opinion amounts to a campaign of economic sabotage against the industrial development, against the alleviation of the long term poverty of the poorest people of the world.
For shame, Oxfam.