Britain’s coal addiction is fuelling social injustice

In Russia, Colombia and the UK, continuing demand for coal is hurting individuals and communities

‘Unabated coal is simply not sustainable in the longer term,’ said Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, last November.

Indigenous communities, climate campaigners and local activists all know that burning coal is not sustainable in the short term either. Coal Action Network researched the global mining impacts of the UK’s addiction to coal, for a report Ditch Coal, which looks at the often ignored social justice issues surrounding the coal industry.

The UK’s remaining nine coal fired power stations consume almost as much coal from Russia as from within the UK.

A resident of Kazas, Siberia, described the impact of coal mining:

Mining is going on a hundred meters away. When they started blasting, all the dust was brought to our vegetable gardens. Vegetables got covered with the coal dust which is impossible to wash out. Now I don‘t want to harm myself by eating anything from this garden.” 

The indigenous Teleut and Shor communities, who live in the main Russian coalfield supplying coal for export, are facing pollution of the ecosystems that they rely on, contaminated water, blasting cracking their homes and intimidation.

Mining companies try to force local people from their land and have been blamed for a series of arson attacks on homes belonging to residents of Kazas who refused to accept relocation to allow mine expansion.

Rural communities are not offered adequate substitute land and instead are forced into urban areas, where their language and spirituality are often lost. The UK is the second biggest user of Russian coal.

An activist from Russian group Ecodefense is coming to explain the issues faced by communities in Russia during a UK speaking tour with the Coal Action Network from 22 May to 10 June. 

coal map

In Colombia, the source for 23 per cent of the coal burned in UK power stations, local people face violence as well as displacement.

Hernando Figueroa Pallares has evidence of Drummond dumping 500 tonnes of coal at sea after problems with a coal barge. He planned to go to the authorities about the incident, but shortly after announcing this intention an a man with a gun came to his home. 

Hernando believes the attacker was sent by the coal company. Although he survived, he now he lives in hiding.

Many others have been killed in similar incidents. On average two environmental activists are murdered a week, worldwide.

The three main Colombian coal mines are run by private foreign companies. Cerrejón mine is owned by three London-listed mining companies, Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo American. The other mines are operated by Drummond an American company and Anglo-Swiss Glencore.

With only three mining companies in Colombia there is a degree of transparency, allowing coal to be traced from its point of extraction to the power stations like Drax which burning it.

31 per cent of the coal burnt in the UK is extracted in Britain. Here opencast mining operations have continually faced resistance from those living in the shadow of proposed mines and environmental activists. At present there are 21 opencast mines working.

This Saturday activist group Reclaim the Power begin an action camp in south Wales. They will shut down the UK’s biggest opencast coal mine, Ffos-y-Fran.

The protest is taking place in opposition to Miller Argent’s plan for another enormous mine at an adjacent site called Nant Llesg. The application has already been refused by Caerphilly Council but the company have appealed.  

Three big opencast mine operators have failed since 2013. The last significant sized deep mine Kellingley Colliery, closed in December last year.

Due to reduced demand for coal, fierce opposition to opencast mines and the low international coal price, coal mining in the UK is a dying industry, employing only 1,487 people in March 2016.

Given that the Government has suggested it will close the remaining coal fired power stations by 2025. As such coal is no longer a mineral of national importance so planning policies need to be updated to prevent our communities being subjected to the noise, dust and destruction of opencast coal mines.

Coal Action Network call on the Government to legislate for a complete phase out of coal as soon as possible. Communities on the front lines of coal extraction can’t wait nine years.

Anne Harris is a campaigner with the Coal Action Network and co-author of the Ditch Coal report.

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