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Chinese coal plant a death knell for Ja’s climate readiness - pundits

Published:Wednesday | August 3, 2016 | 2:06 PMPetre Williams-Raynor
Chen… Planet Earth is very sick; if we do not start treatment as soon as possible, it may never recover to its former self.
Diana McCaulay

THE SALE of Alpart to Chinese firm Jiuguan Iron and Steel holds not only the promise of jobs; it also threatens to erode Jamaica's climate change response efforts.

This is the verdict of members of the local scientific community and environmental lobby, who have come out against the planned for 1,000-megawatt coal-fired electricity plant reportedly included in the firm's plans to support its new operations.

"That plant would more than double our present carbon emissions. Our intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) would make very little sense," said atmospheric physicist Professor Anthony Chen, one of Jamaica's foremost climate scientists.

INDCs are the voluntary commitments made by countries, including Jamaica, to cut back on their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) - including coal and oil - which fuel global warming.


Jamaica, through its own INDCs, has promised to reduce its emissions by the equivalent of 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030.

"We have a generating capacity of between 600 and 800 megawatts islandwide, so that (1,000-megawatt plant) would double it. Even more than that, coal emits more carbon dioxide than oil - about 1.3 times more," added Chen, who in 2007 won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to climate change research.

And his concerns are not limited to the island's climate change response efforts in which billions have so far been invested - from the creation of a Climate Change Policy Framework and Action Plan to numerous projects, which have and/or have had as their focus climate change readiness.

"My main concern would be for the people living around the area with all the coal ash and all the toxic material, including mercury dioxin. A coal plant will emit more radioactivity than a nuclear plant," Chen told The Gleaner.

"All the people living around the area would not want to live around the area at all because of the coal ash that have all these toxic materials," he added.

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), echoed his sentiments.


"It is a disastrous decision. I reviewed the National Energy Policy (2009-2030), which called for five per cent of the energy mix to be coal and also called for a reduction in GHG. A 1,000-megawatt coal plant exceeds our entire generating capacity now so that would be a significant increase in GHG," she reflected.

"We signed the Paris Agreement in April this year, it would make attaining our INDCs almost impossible. It is [also] abandoning the Caribbean delegation that tried so hard to get commitments for a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase and all of this money spent on climate change," she added.

Meanwhile, some thought appears to have been given to the implications of a coal plant, with Mining Minister Mike Henry and colleague Andrew Wheatley reportedly accompanied by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to the closing of the deal in Beijing recently.

McCaulay is unimpressed.

"They have sort of said that they will have state-of-the-art emission controls for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulates. But that is going to rely on a degree of commitment to environmental monitoring and enforcement that we have never seen in Jamaica. And then what people don't understand is that if you have all those things, the coal is no longer cheap," the JET boss said.

Chen said he hoped NEPA will "do its job, which is to investigate the environmental impact and make sure that those things will not happen, that all the toxic material will be eliminated".

"There are plants that are just coming in that try to eliminate these things but they are expensive to run and so it does not make coal any cheaper, it makes it more expensive," he added.

Ultimately, Chen, former head of the Climate Studies Group Mona, advised against the plant.

"Everybody, including Jamaica, has to cut back on GHG emissions. We have to peak in our GHG between 2020 and 2030. And by 2070 or thereabouts, there should be no emission of GHG. This, therefore, would be a backward step in that direction," he said.