Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Papua New Guinea is a large island just to the North of Australia, plagued by poverty, violence and corruption. But their Government is determined to build a better future for their children, regardless of how many greens they upset.
PNG politicians push coal as Pacific islanders rail against climate change
by Catherine Wilson on 12 March 2019
- Politicians in Papua New Guinea have thrown their support behind a plan to power the country’s development through coal.
- The plan to establish coal mines and power plants gained prominence following a publicity tour hosted by rugby stars and sponsored by Australian mining and energy firm Mayur.
- Mayur’s proposal for a project combining coal, solar and biomass energy remains stalled, pending approval by the country’s newly restructured energy utility.
- The project faces opposition both locally and in other Pacific island states, where climate change-driven sea level rises pose a serious threat.
Politicians in Papua New Guinea are ratcheting up their support for a new foray into coal mining and power generation, even as neighboring states call for a global reduction in carbon emissions to stave off a catastrophic rise in the sea level.
Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum — which comprises 18 states, including PNG, Australia, Kiribati and Tuvalu, among others — emphasized during their annual summit in Nauru last year that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”
“This move by the PNG government is a total negation of the plight that the small island states in the Pacific are facing due to the negative impacts of climate change,” says Tafue Lusama, a climate change activist and leader of the Tuvalu Christian Church. “For one of our own brother countries in the Pacific to turn its back on our struggles is [an issue] that needs serious pleading and dialogue.”
“If PNG ever wants to get to Australia’s level of prosperity, it will need to install 20,000 megawatts,” Mulder [Mayur Resources] says. “PNG is not even managing 100 megawatts being installed per year. PNG political leaders have to somehow explain that it will take PNG 200 years from today to achieve the same living standard as Australia. This does not even cater for the huge population growth over the next two centuries which PNG will have… I am sure there is not one politician, not one business owner or one resident who wants to wait that long.”
PNG has one of the world’s lowest electrification rates: only about 13 percent of its people have access to mains electricity. Rugged forest-covered mountain ranges and scattered islands make grid-based power distribution a logistical challenge. This lack of access to electricity, widespread in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s 8.2 million people live, contributes to the country’s low human development; an estimated 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.
In my opinion green opposition to affordable economic development in a place as desperately impoverished as Papua New Guinea is obscene, even if that development requires burning a little of their abundant coal resources.