Kiribati president calls for moratorium on coal mines

Anote Tong urges aggressive push to stop carbon emissions from coal use and save his low-lying islands from rising seas

Kiribati president Anote Tong (Pic: UN Photos)

Kiribati president Anote Tong (Pic: UN Photos)

By Ed King

The president of Kiribati, one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries, has written to fellow world leaders asking them to support to global moratorium on new coal mines.

Anote Tong said the future safety of his people depended on collective and aggressive action to stem the use of coal, the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

“Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines. It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” he said.

President of Kiribati coal letter to world leaders

The average land height across Kiribati’s 30-odd islands is two metres above the Pacific ocean. Projected sea level rises up to 2100 could make many of its citizens homeless.

Over 190 countries are finalising plans for a new UN pact to curb emissions and help poor countries adapt to future climate extremes, which is due to be signed off in Paris this December.

“Let us join together as a global community and take action now,” added Tong.

“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical.”

The average height of Kiribati's islands is 2m above sea level (Pic: AusAID/Flickr)

The average height of Kiribati’s islands is 2m above sea level (Pic: AusAID/Flickr)

Coal prices have slumped in the past five years as supply has outstripped demand growth from emerging economies like China.

Mining companies like Peabody – which posted heavy losses last quarter – are making a virtue of this, arguing the cheap fuel source can expand access to energy in the developing world.

The idea has gained traction in Australia, where prime minister Tony Abbott famously proclaimed “coal is good for humanity” and is supporting coal mine expansion.

And NGOs have found more than 2,000 coal power plants in the pipeline worldwide since 2010, mostly in Asia.

But the World Bank and Oxfam have warned coal is no poverty cure, as it drives climate change that hits the world’s poor hardest.

Analysts at the Carbon Tracker Initiative said investing in new mines would be “madness”, as the extra supplies could not be burned without exceeding the 2C warming limit agreed by governments.

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The Australia Institute endorsed Tong’s call for a moratorium.

“Just yesterday in launching Australia’s Paris targets, Prime Minister Abbott made a special effort to continue to push the need for more Australian coal, not less,” said Ben Oquist, the think tank’s executive director.

“This is patently at odds with any sensible global climate policy.”

Australia has a larger share of the world seaborne coal market than Saudi Arabia has of the world oil market.

Three mega-coal mines proposed for Queensland’s Galilee basin, if completed, would pour an additional 100 million tonnes of coal per year into the world market, further lowering the coal price and increasing greenhouse gas emissions

“There is no plausible scenario in which a world that is tackling climate change is a world that needs more coal mines,” said Oquist.

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Greenpeace chief Kumi Naidoo agreed: “The people of Kiribati are refusing to be silenced by reckless governments and corporations that are perpetuating climate change, and which in turn is causing rising sea-levels.

“I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice.”

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