Impoverished Island Nation Embraces Coal, Rejects Climate Change Narratives

Squatters from the Highlands living at Six-Mile Rubbish Tip in Port Moresby. Stephen Codrington [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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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.


90 thoughts on “Impoverished Island Nation Embraces Coal, Rejects Climate Change Narratives

  1. Jared Diamond said in one of his books something about how he saw inhabitants of PNG as somewhat smarter than westerners. Not because of education, but from natural selection (they had to be smart in ordrer to survive the harsh conditions).
    Turns out he was right.

    • That is probably a common fallacy. The theory is that wild animals have to be smarter than domestic animals because they have to rely on their wiles to survive. In fact, brains are nutritionally expensive. Domestic animals can be more intelligent because they don’t have to worry about being food deprived. Raccoons are a notable exception. link

      We find that impoverished nations have lower IQ for a variety of reasons. For example, a kid can fight off malaria or can develop more grey matter, but not both. PNG has an average IQ of 83.

      For a variety of reasons, Jared Diamond is probably wrong.

      • Now how would we measure the IQ of impoverished people? — using standards developed by comparatively affluent people?

        What does an impoverished-person IQ test look like? — I’d like to see some sample questions? — Oh that would require the ability to read and comprehend the developed language and developed concepts of comparatively affluent people. So, help me to understand exactly how the IQ is measured.

        • I don’t know, but the ability to read isn’t necessarily required. As long as the impoverished person can speak a common language, the questions can be give to them orally. That still leaves the matter of cultural bias in the questions, but a lack of reading ability shouldn’t be much of an issue.

          • Measuring the length of time to solve puzzles, the person’s ability at making and using tools to make life easier, using an inclined plane, wheel pulley, etc. to move things. Not making the same mistake over and over again. Remembering the path, direction to food, water, shelter, etc. Ability to learn a NEW task quickly, the time taken showing IQ level. All the methods that a person with training use to give a VERY good estimate, (often proved accurate later in life) of a child’s IQ before they can even speak. E.g. why does a child decide to use the toilet within days after learning to walk?

        • @Robert Kernodle Leftist talking points get SO tedious. An ” impoverished-person IQ test” looks like this:'s_Progressive_Matrices. The same as for rich people. Explainable by pointing and grunting, if need be. Usable with children who haven’t learned to read yet. No reading, no “comprehending of developed language” and “developed concepts of comparatively affluent people” involved.

          RPM (Raven’s Progressive Matrices) are even leftist/Progressive, it says so right in the name! 😉

          Technically, RPM measure fluid intelligence, not crystallized intelligence. Since fluid intelligence is how you get crystallized intelligence, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence are well-correlated with each other and with “g” . g is sometimes called General Cognitive Ability. The SAT, GRE, & etc. measure crystallized intelligence and are also well-correlated with g.

        • IQ testing is biased. It is determined by what you know based on a standard of what the ‘average’ person knows. If you are from a different cultural background you will do poorly. I am a voracious knowledge hound, constantly wanting to learn new things and thus benefit from the biased IQ scores (>120), but that doesn’t make me smart. I know many people with a “lower IQ” who are smarter than me. If you love learning you will have a high IQ, if you love learning non-academic things (blacksmithing, glass blowing, woodcraft) you will do poorly.

          • It is not based on knowledge at all. Perhaps you need to take an actual IQ test. The IQ test was created and scaled according to averages found in western Europe. Those who average the highest scores are east Asians. That destroys the charge of bias.

            Logic, deduction, and pattern recognition are more in line with what it tests, i.e., cognitive ability, not knowledge.

      • Sorry, CommieBob, but I am with NS and Jared on this one.

        The argument is that in a modern urban environment you don’t get the natural thinning that you do in environments that can actually kill you. Do something stupid in a society surrounded by hospitals and someone will rescue you, nurse you back to health, tag you and then release you back into the wild. You may learn from it, or you might not and become a repeat offender.

        Do something stupid 100km from the nearest picture of a hospital and you are likely to end up dead. The people who don’t end up dead are either the lucky or those smart enough to start analysing the situation and recognising dangers. In the jungle, everyone can hear you scream.

        We are not talking about growth and development rates and the difference between wondering where your next meal is coming from vs more time playing with advanced Lego, we are talking about the fact that the Darwin awards are allowed to run their natural course without red and blue flashing lights arriving to shut down the presentation. Take a random group of adult city dwellers and you are likely to find one that should NEVER be allowed near power tools. Take a random group of adults from outside a modern culture and even if none of them had even seen a power tool before, they would be cautious enough to recognise moving parts and sharp edges and adjust their handling processes accordingly. Could they solve deal with a newspaper puzzle page? Probably not. Could you leave them alone in a room and trust them not to use the office desk chair as a ladder? Most definitely.

        In fact in the long term it might be argued that being forced to live in a harsh environment was what forced society to evolve successfully in the first place. If you live in a location where for 3 or more months of the year the temp drops below zero, nothing grows and simply being outside unprotected kills you, then you either learn how to build warm houses, to make warm clothes and store food for extended periods, or move somewhere else, or die. Not dying is a reasonably good motivator. If you can simply eat fresh food from the plants growing around you all year and safely sleep outside then what is your motivation to learn how to dry meats or build better structures?

        Diamond drifts off a bit in his later books*, but Gun, Germs and Steel has some very good insights into the actual reasons why some cultures significantly outpaced others, most of which are based on the environment you are living in.

        * Collapse isn’t that good at all. Well meaning in the sense that people must be aware the it IS possible to run something completely into the ground, but somewhat sloppy in the research and giving the impression he was trying a little too hard to get a seat with the cool Environmentalist kids at the next party.

  2. Not all of New Guinea’s neighbours think that gas and oil are bad.
    Apart from Indonesia, Timor Leste is up and running.
    Here is the picture
    This is a devastatingly poor nation which is about to become less poor, if managed right
    ‘At current market prices, the LNG would be worth almost $50 billion.

    Like most gas fields in the wider region, including Papua New Guinea’s and Australia’s huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports facilities, Greater Sunrise also contains significant amounts of condensate, an ultra-light form of crude oil.’

    Not bad for an Island with a population of 1.3 million.

    • So where do the authors come up with a defined need of 20,000 MW (20 million KW) in new power generation to supply a population of only 1.3 million? Are they planning a massive investment in aluminum production?

      Natural gas would seem to be a better solution for a country engaged in a massive electrification program … or nuclear, or a combination.

      • Eight million inhabitants according to the 2016 census, up from 5 millions in 2000. Now probably >9 million.

        PNG:s most important export is LNG. They recently completed a liquification plant. They are probably unwilling to lose their only major source of foreign exchange and trash their largest investment ever when they have major unused coal reserves easily available and situated close to navigable rivers.

      • So where do the authors come up with a defined need of 20,000 MW (20 million KW) in new power generation to supply a population of only 1.3 million?

        Not sure where Lewis got his 1.3 million number from. The article states:

        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

      • So, base on tty’s assumptions on population, let’s see what we get.

        Australian per capita consumptions 9,326 kW-hr (
        Population: 9,000,000
        Annual requirement: 9,000,000 x 9,236 = 83,124,000,000 kW-hrs
        Nameplate @ 24/7 production, 85% availability = 83,124,000,000/(365*24)*(1/0.85)

        Generating capacity needed is 11,163,578 kW, or about 11 Gigawatts, not 20. On the other hand, it’s a perfectly respectable ROM depending on what other assumptions they used that I don’t know about.

        • Well, they’re probably factoring in population growth over time. They’re not going to get to 20 GW overnight, it’ll take years to reach that number (they’re hoping for much less than the currently estimated 200 years), years in which the population will likely continue to also increase. So if 11 GW is needed for a population of 9 million, 20 GW is probably as good target for when the process is complete and the population has grown with room to spare for additional growth.

          • I pay for 13000-14000 kWhr annually just for my house. I suspect when all industrial activity is added on a per-capita basis, the US usage might double or triple the 9326 (or is it 9236) kWhr per capita in Aus.

            I hope the PNG power is sold to users very cheap.

          • @Thomas;
            Don’t forget, that’s per capita. I’m in the US and our household consumption is close to yours, but as a family of 4 we’d be at 48,000 kW-hr (US consumption at 12,000 kW-hr per capita), so that must include all the other industrial and commercial uses.

  3. Coal to supply 30 years demand of a 50 megawatt power station is hardly abundant. I recon the reserves are significantly higher than that?

    • Not preferable if they can sell the natural gas for more money per BTU value than they can the coal. Don’t burn your high value foreign exchange goods.

    • Natural gas and condensate are definitely cleaner and therefore preferable to coal.

      That rather depends on what your goals are. Cleaner isn’t the only goal a country has to consider. Economically, you’d probably want to export the fuel source that you can get the most money from and use the fuel source that has a lesser export value for domestic use. As such, it’s perfectly logical for PNG to prefer to export Natural gas and condensate while preferring to use coal domestically.

  4. In my opinion, if the greens want to reduce emissions they would realize that coal fired power is obviously the least expensive way to produce power. The only lower cost way to produce electricity is to use the ZECCOM™¹ (Zero Emissions Coal Combustion) Process. IF they were serious about reducing emissions and not just serious about stopping fossil fuels. If they offered to pay the difference, between coal without the ZECCOM™¹ Process and Coal with the ZECCOM™¹ Process, they may get money from the impoverished country.

  5. “…an estimated 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.”

    –and the rest don’t have electricity. So how is their “poverty line” defined?


    • I’ve been there twice. And if 60% of the population is above the poverty line, then that line is low indeed. Much of the country is still literally at a neolithic level. The first time I was there in the 80’s I bought a stone-axe as a souvenir. From a genuine stone-smith. Admittedly he now made them for the tourist trade, but when he was a young man they were still used both as tools and for war.

      • If the progressives succeed, that stone-smith will be a rich man.

        I’ve been stocking up on flint myself, just in case.

    • Half of a BIG island. PNG is bigger than California but smaller than Texas and has about as many inhabitants as Virginia. And almost one thousand different languages and just about the most difficult terrain to be found anywhere in the world. Large areas are still virtually inaccessible and little explored.

          • The point was to correct the statement in the opening sentence in Eric’s article at the top of the page that: ‘Papua New Guinea is a large island…’
            Had you read the article carefully, you should have known (or at least guessed) that.

          • Then the proper response to that opening line is it to 1) specify the line you are taking issue with and 2) point out that “New Guinea” is the name of the large island whereas “Papua New Guinea” is the name of the island nation that occupies one half of that island.

            Your response was pointless because it does not actually get across any pertinent facts or even specify what part of the article you were taking issue with, rather it tosses out a non sequitur without meaning.

    • half an island but still an “island nation”. It doesn’t matter how many other nations it shares an island with, it’s still a nation on an island AKA an “island nation”.

      The “Continental United States” is a common phrase. The United states, however shares that continent with other countries (such as Mexico and Canada).

      So again, one must ask, what was the point of your pointless post?

      • Half an island is not an island. If we cannot be accurate in simple arithmetic,
        how are we to be trusted on larger matters – like Mike’s Nature Trick?

      • Yes, John, but not all of the US is on this continent. Hence Continental United States is not just a phrase, it is name used when it is required to exclude the parts of the USA that are elsewhere. Hawaii et al.

        Photios is making a valid point here. The wording of the original article is unnecessarily misleading. We are not an Arts forum. We are not meant to be dealing with imagery and playing with words to deliberately create metaphor. I mean we occasionally do because puns are awesome, but WUWT is meant to be one of the world’s leading science websites. If we are talking hard concepts – in this case that the nation of PNG does not enclosure the entire island – then it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure the language is as clear as possible.

        Photios is correct and Eric should have known better. Bad Eric! Bread and Fosters diet for you, young man!

        • Thank you Craig. Since so much of skeptical arguments depend on interpretation of numbers and measurements etc, it behoves us to get the numbers as accurate as possible.

          • To conclude: I blame the schools and their refusal to correct pupils errors. All arithmetics are not equal. Neither a chef who refused to distinguish between a pound of salt and half a pound of salt nor an accounts clerk who thought deducting a million from my balance when half a million was mandated should have any complaints if their contracts were terminated immediately.

        • Yes, John, but not all of the US is on this continent.

          And not all of PNG is on the island of New Guinea. So like Photios, you are making a meaningless point there.

          The bottom line is: “island nation” is a perfectly reasonable descriptor of PNG. Referring to the entire island as PNG, however, was a minor slip-up on Eric’s part, but if one wants to take issue with that the *very first* thing they need to do is specify exactly what part of the article that are taking issue with so others know what they are blathering on about.

  6. Eric Worrall said:
    “In my opinion green opposition to affordable economic development in a place as desperately impoverished as Papua New Guinea is obscene…”

    Bears repeating.

    • Affordable economic development today vs. a potential .5 degree increase in global temps by the year 2100 ( assuming strict adherence to the Paris climate accord).
      Probably a wise decision since virtually all inhabitants on PNG today will probably be dead by 2100.

  7. If ever there was a place for hydro power it is New Guinea.

    High mountains with rivers flowing down the steep sides all the time.

    Why use anything else?

    • Especially for Micro Hydro Power on any of the thousands of remote villages that will never be hooked up to any grid because the terrain is so difficult or so remote or an island. As you say, it is mountainous so with all the rain they get near the equator, it is well suited to both micro and small hydro, if not large (dam) reservoir hydro for any larger grid requirement. It is capital intensive which is the main impediment to any electrification. I am familiar with some micro hydro development there by missionary’s over the years. Electricity sure makes a difference to a country like this that is literally just coming out of the stone age in many places.

  8. PNG does have an alternative – hydro power. Lots of rain, lots of rivers, lots of mountains. But this is very expensive due to the very difficult terrain and buliding reservoirs is politically hazardous since the locals are extremely unwilling to let go of their traditional land holdings, and not exactly peaceful.

  9. PNG is like nowhere else – it is split with Indonesia and includes many outlying islands. It is extremely difficult to get to many of the isolated locations without aircraft, and is split by mountains, some snow capped (near the equator).
    I have been reliably told of how the locals were used to reduce the Japanese, who suffered crushing death rates due to disease and other causes.
    There are over 850 dialects and it is “culturally diverse”. With among the lowest rates of electrification, a tough terrain, etc., it will be interesting to see how what used to be the mandate progresses.

    • Not 850 dialects. 850 languages, the languages in two neighbouring villages can be as different as English and Albanian. An odd side-effect is that essentially everybody is fluent in several languages, usually including tok pisin (also known as “pidgin”).

  10. “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.”

    Coal power isn’t going to change that, because the grid isn’t going to get built.

    solar power would change that (as it has in the remoter parts of Kenya)

    • Remember that village in India where Greenpeace installed a solar array to provide them electricity?

      After a short experience with solar-provided electricity, the villagers rioted to press their demands for “real electricity”

    • Granted, it will be a long time before grid power reaches everybody; however, attempts to give remote communities some electricity quicker will take resources from the best long term solution.

    • 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

      Coal power isn’t going to change that, because the grid isn’t going to get built.

      Due to the nature of the geography, there will be challenges in building the grid, for sure, but nothing that can’t be overcome given the will, the resources, and the time to do so. No point in building it though, without stable, reliable power to distribute on it. Building proper stable power plants is the first step in building a proper grid. While solar might serve as a stop-gap measure to help out the remotest parts until the grid get built out (which will take time), Intermittent, unreliable Solar just doesn’t cut it as a proper energy solution to PNGs energy needs.

    • Curious Griff.. I agree with you on this one. PNG is such a mountainous country ( with lots of very high rugged ranges ) that a unified national electricity grid is impossible. It does indeed need a power supply system with lots of nodes. And as most of the population still live in remote & isolated villages, local, village based generating systems using hydro, solar or wind with back up batteries seem the most appropriate.

      Why ? Because getting coal to such isolated villages will be impossible. Ditto gas.

      • Curious Griff.. I agree with you on this one. PNG is such a mountainous country ( with lots of very high rugged ranges )

        Mountains cast shadows. As do Trees and other flora (which are abundant on tropic islands). Solar doesn’t do too good in shadow.

        a unified national electricity grid is impossible

        No, just not easy to accomplish. The government of PNG is in the process of building a grid. Yes they’ll have challenges in connecting some of the remoter areas to the grid, but it’s not an impossible task.

      • solar or wind with back up batteries

        You are joking, surely. We, in the first world, haven’t yet managed to come up with effective battery storage of the type that would be required. How in the world will PNG manage it?

    • And Griff pipes up without a clue as usual. PNG is very VERY oil rich, just hasn’t been developed yet. A company I worked for was contracted to install IT systems for Oil Search PNG. I nearly got a trip out there to Port Moresby. So, not only coal but plenty of oil and gas. To burst your bubble, No-one in PNG is going to bother with Kenya style solar!

    • “griff March 13, 2019 at 8:26 am

      Coal power isn’t going to change that, because the grid isn’t going to get built.”

      It IS being built, and it will take time.

    • I disagree, Griff.

      Solar would be a feel good novelty. Remember it rains in that part of the world, rather a lot by all accounts, so while the nation is near the equator, it is hardly the land of endless blue skies and wall to wall sunshine.

      I also feel your ‘grid isn’t going to be built’ argument is deceptive. If you have no power generation ability then you clearly have nothing for a grid to carry, so it is extremely unlikely any state would build a grid much bigger than their existing abilities and known future requirements.

      (Important word being ‘known’. Not hoped for. You might hope to have children, but that doesn’t mean you are going to be starting to purchase baby clothes the day after the two of you hold hands for the first time.)

      They are not just planning to build a coal plant and then sit back hoping the unicorns know how to plug it in for them. This is big picture planning designed to lift the country into the 20th century first, and then, once that has been successfully completed, push on into the 21st.

      • Solar would be a feel good novelty. Remember it rains in that part of the world, rather a lot by all accounts, so while the nation is near the equator, it is hardly the land of endless blue skies and wall to wall sunshine.

        Indeed. It’s easy to say “let them use solar” without ever looking into just how effective would solar be in the environment that the people of PNG live in. The sun only shines for so many hours a day at maximum. A lot less than that if you live in the shadow of a mountain or live in an excessively rainy part of the world.

    • You haven’t been to New Guinea have you griff?

      It isn’t exactly ideal for solar power despite being close to the equator. I remember arriving in Tabubil. There was about half an hour of sunshine that day. According to the locals it was the first time they had seen the sun for a month. Then it turned normal and started raining again and kept up for the rest of the time I was in the area. They get an average of 315 inches of rain in a year.

      Excellent for hydropower but pretty useless for solar.

  11. In places yes, but generally only for hospitals and larger places like small cities that have cleared the forest back enough to get sunlight most of the day. To be effective, solar needs direct sunlight for most of the day. Why not Micro and Small Hydropower where it is applicable? It has a much higher energy density and is generally available 24/7. The technology is proven and fairly simple to maintain and build. Only a small weir is required unless you want to build in some small storage for energy storage and domestic water supplies.

  12. From the Crow Rez in Montana to Papua New Guinea-the green nightmare is now real:
    the prospect of healthy , happy, prosperous, dark skinned people looms.

  13. I spent most of last year working out in PNG. I did not go much on Port Moresby, a tad on the dodgy side.

    I spent most of the time up in the jungle and caught a spot of Dengue fever for my troubles. I worked with a local fellow who was our translator. He told me there were 800 different languages in PNG. I could quite believe that as everything is so isolated. The only way to get around in the jungle was helicopter or by boat.

    The company I was working for are going to make a warehouse full of money through gas exports and were only providing the local villages whose land they had to go through a paltry batch of solar cells for lighting.

    I was hoping they would provide a lot more like medical clinics, doctors, schools even some food for the malnourished children. The locals dont want charity only the building blocks to join the 21st century.

  14. Have we oogotten Al Gore and hisprediction that a twenty foot sea rise will wipe out cooastal cities by the end of the century? When he came out with this it was obniously a fabrication. I simply decided to make y own measurements. It was possible by using sea lvbel data from the last eight years available then. I found that the expected sea level rise by centuty’s end was to be a shade under ten inche, not the 20 feet as Al would have us believe. The pmary high quality science jouals, meaning Nture and Science, ,clearly had to be nototified because Nobel offocials ere standing pat with the fabrication. I sent a letter to each journal, and guess what? Both were rejected, probably even without being read. So what was the final outcome of thi affair? Al Gore got a Nonel Prize and I remained an unknown interloper. The prize category was then shifted to cover that phony sea level connectiuion.. I have seen various predictions of sea level raise since then, mostly well above ten inches. I have seen nothing that would make me change my original prediction made eight years ago. I am willing to bet that when final measures are in the actual saa level rise will be ery close to ten inches as I predicted originally.

  15. Without wanting to be seen going all White Man’s Burden here, PNG is, I believe, our physically closest neighbour and arguably should be considered our closest ally.

    PNG stood alongside up during WW2. Australians should have enough respect and friendship with their nation to be both proud and supportive of any attempt by PNG to improve the health and wellbeing. Put simply PNG does not need your 1st World Guilt Trip Problems and should be openly supported in whatever their plans turn out to be.

  16. Dammit, can’t some WUWT administrator correct that first sentence? A blatant cock-up in the first line of the story does nothing for WUWt’s credibility.

  17. I hope things work out better than they did at the RTZ Panguna copper mine on Bougainville, a very sad story of greed, infighting and civil war. I worked as the resident engineer on the construction of new government offices and a bank in 1980 (the war started in 1988). I still have the Jacaranda Dictionary of Melanesian Pidgin on the shelf.

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