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Southeast Asian climate and energy working group urge ASEAN leaders to fight the coal push, fight for sustainable and people-centered energy

Press Release
November 13, 2017

QUEZON CITY – The Southeast Asian Working Group on Climate and Energy, composed of members of civil society organizations and people's movements across Southeast Asia, denounced what they claimed to be an evident collusion between leaders of ASEAN, East Asia, and the United States of America, in their push for the coal agenda within the climate-vulnerable region of Southeast Asia.

According to the Working Group's head convenor Gerry Arances, huge corporations and developed countries like the United States (US) and Japan, have zeroed in on the region as an economy ripe enough for hosting a number of their investments on the expansion of coal – an energy source long called out by environmentalists and affected communities as the dirtiest, most destructive energy source there is.

"The realities of destructive coal have not stopped ASEAN, US and East Asian leaders’ ASEAN coal push," said Arances.

Arances said that ASEAN leaders, sanctioning the increase of coal use in their local region and welcoming more coal investments from across the globe, have branded coal as the key to further ASEAN’s economic growth.

Meanwhile, according to one of the Working Group's convenors, Glenn Ymata, the US and East Asian countries, like Japan, ride on the ASEAN coal frenzy by promoting more coal projects within the region, echoing claims made by the region’s leaders that coal is the key to power development.

"Corporations in the Donald Trump-led US have encouraged more coal mining on US lands. Coal extracted from these lands are to be marketed as 'cheap and reliable' energy for 'power-hungry' countries such as those in Southeast Asia," explained one of the other Working Group's convenors Atty. Aaron Pedrosa.

On the other hand, corporations in a Shinzo Abe-led Japan have successfully pushed for the Prime Minister to promote coal as the succeeding primary energy source within and outside of the country, as explained by Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development Legal Research Officer Atty. Avril de Torres.

"Supporting the US’ Asian coal push and building on its reputation as a technologically-advanced society, Japan has recently peddled its clean coal technology to ASEAN countries," said de Torres.

WALHI's (The Indonesian Forum for Environment) Dwi Sawung stressed that the myth that coal could be clean is threatening to further boost coal's status as the region’s main energy source.

"We stress that clean coal has time and again been debunked as a dirty lie. Clean coal is currently too expensive, especially for the poorer countries in ASEAN, and will take years before reaching a viable economic price," said Dwi.

According to Dwi, even at a competitive price, clean coal is inefficient with reducing the emissions that traditional coal combustion releases.

"Clean coal’s air pollution control technologies, while promising to capture hazardous air pollutants released by coal, are merely stored in ash dumps or unlined waste ponds that poison surface and groundwater," continued Dwi.

Ymata states that these setbacks of “clean coal” do not even begin to account for the environmental degradation caused by all coal – whether “clean” or not – during the rest of the coal life cycle.

"Even 'clean' coal implies environmental and social costs, taking into account the effects of coal mining, preparation and transport," said Ymata.

"We denounce these coal policies as an explicit and dangerous denial of the climate effects of coal and the urgency of responding to the issue of climate change," he continued.

"It is evident that the aggressive coal push being fed to an already climate-vulnerable Southeast Asia is nothing more than a crusade of corporate interests," added Atty. Pedrosa.

According to Pedrosa, this denial is poised to cost more lives from the people of a climate-vulnerable ASEAN, in service of the few corporate interests dominating the countries that insist on the proliferation of destructive and outdated coal.

"Coal-affected communities, environmental advocates, people’s movements and organizations have repeatedly debunked the myth of coal as a “cheap”, “reliable”, and “clean” energy source," said Atty. De Torres.

"The simple reality is that coal as an energy source has long become a thing of the past. It is irredeemable in the environmental degradation that it causes," stressed Sawung.

According to Pedrosa, when an increasingly warming world is on a race to reduce its emissions, building new coal plants and developing technology to make coal more palatable provide little environmental and economic sense – especially in the face of abundant, more sustainable alternatives.

"There is already a solution to meet the world’s energy needs without compromising the environment," explained Atty. De Torres.

"Development that resonates with the people, especially the most climate-vulnerable, is one that is powered by renewable energy sources," she continued.

"Unlike coal, renewable energy is sustainable and clean of carbon emissions that doom us into severe global warming. Renewable energy is also much more accessible to the people – making it more inclusive and responsive to the people’s developmental needs, instead of huge corporations’," said Dwi Sawung.

"It is only a matter of whose interests our world leaders choose to serve," stressed Arances.

Arances said that the Working Group denounced President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other coal proponents for selling to climate-vulnerable countries the dangerous myths that surround coal which he claimed to have spelled and will continue to spell countless deaths of climate-vulnerable people.

"We call for these coal leaders to back off of Southeast Asia with their deadly coal agenda," said Arances.

"We denounce ASEAN leaders for colluding with rich coal proponents in promoting coal and neglecting the climate-related suffering that has mired the nations of their region throughout history," added Atty. Pedrosa.

The Working Group demanded ASEAN leaders to stop using, investing in, and financing coal as a means to power Southeast Asian economic development, to reject all coal projects offered by the US, East Asia and other prominent coal proponents, to use the Southeast Asian region’s moral and political position as a climate-vulnerable region to call out and condemn developed countries' coal push, and to demand from these countries their equitable share in climate change mitigation.

Finally, the Working Group also stressed on their demand to invest in renewable energy as a path to a people-centric development, and to pursue a development that, "resonates with the people from the ground instead of that which only resonates with corporate and developed countries' interests."

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