Let Common Sense Prevail

National energy policy & MMM-Muvman Liberater turf wars

What on earth makes the leader of the MMM adopt such an anachronistic stance and lobby for coal power plants despite the fact that coal burning is the main cause of CO2 pollution in the world?

By Mrinal Roy

Almost every week the world endures climate change related extreme weather conditions wreaking havoc in countries across the world and causing tremendous hardships to people. The UN weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), reported last week that since the beginning of the year North America has been affected by an extreme cold front, Australia by a record high heat wave and wildfires followed by torrential rains and devastating flooding in Queensland. There were also heavy rains in parts of South America and heavy snow on the Alps and the Himalayas. According to the WMO, temperatures in southern Minnesota in the US reached record levels of minus 53.9°C on 30 January, a drop from the previous national low temperature record of minus 48.9°C. This week WMO reported that taken together, the past four years were the four warmest years on record.

The world and in particular those who chose to bury their heads in the sand and remain blind to the mounting scientific evidence are waking up and taking cognizance of the major threats and disastrous fallouts of climate change on our planet. Children from across the world more and more conscious of the catastrophic impact of climate change on the planet and their future have added their voice to the clamour for more robust actions by governments to reduce the CO2 emissions of their countries and halt the adverse consequences of climate change on the world. Thousands of children from Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Germany and Switzerland skipped school recently to demand more potent actions on climate change by governments and in particular by the most polluting countries in the world .

The scientific evidence that the world is facing an impending catastrophe due to global warming and climate change is overwhelming. The report submitted ahead of the COP 24 summit in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprising the world’s leading climate change scientists warned that the world has only 12 years until 2030 to keep global warming within a maximum of 1.5°C to avoid a disastrous climate change catastrophe. It called for urgent actions to phase out coal and fossil fuels from the production of electricity and unprecedented initiatives and potent measures to limit global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C. The conclusions of the IPCC report are backed by 6000 scientific references and the dedicated contribution of thousands of experts and peer reviews worldwide.

Greed and lobbies

Against such a backdrop it would be highly irresponsible for anyone to continue to lobby for the vested interests of coal power plants when the country and the world should be drastically reducing its dependence on electricity production from coal and significantly increasing its production of energy from clean and green energy sources or renewable sources. The greed for profits from the lucrative energy production business from highly polluting and principally coal fired power plants in the country cannot short-change public interest at a time when cogent actions are urgently required by every country to meet their COP21 commitments and significantly cut down their CO2 emissions to preserve and safeguard the planet for our children and future generations.

In 2017, 41.6% or the lion share of electricity was produced from coal in the country. Not surprisingly coal imports used in principally coal fired power plants have risen to some 1.44 million tonnes per year. It is therefore flabbergasting to note that despite the warnings of the IPCC and their calls to end electricity production from coal fired plants and for urgent actions to phase out energy production from fossil fuels, the leader of the MMM caught in a time warp and the mindset of a bygone era was still defending coal fired power plants and lamenting the closure of Alteo’s coal only power plant in Beau Champ at his last press conference.

In contrast to the hullaballoo raised some years ago against a coal based power plant in Albion, there was not a word of protest about the air pollution risks endured by the inhabitants of Beau Champ, Ernest Florent or La Lucie Roy.

Double standards

We know over the years that coal lobbies have been tenacious and diehard. Yet, what on earth makes the leader of the MMM adopt such an anachronistic stance and lobby for coal power plants when the burning of coal emits significantly more carbon dioxide (about 1.45 times more) in the atmosphere than other fossil fuels and nearly twice that produced from natural gas? Why is he lobbying for coal despite the fact that coal burning is the main cause of CO2 pollution in the world and claiming that we should not rush things and act in haste when the timeline to save the planet is short?

Why dilly-dally when people and the world demand very urgent actions to wind up the use of coal to produce electricity and significantly cut down CO2 emissions if we are save the planet for our children and future generations? The coal lobbies in the country have time after time doggedly jockeyed for their vested interests at the expense of public interest. Our common homeland, planet Earth is in real danger. This is not the time for procrastination, double standards and inept spin doctoring.

The national energy policy therefore needs to be driven by potent actions to mitigate the threats posed by climate change and global warming. It has to be anchored on sound scientific evidence and objective criteria. Our priority should obviously be to increase our production of energy from green sources such as solar energy and wind energy farms, hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, geothermal power, etc., and renewable energy such as from plant biomass.

There is an urgent need to also increase the production of energy from new proven green technologies and renewable sources. Although there are several solar farms and other projects in the pipeline, much more needs to done as in 2017, the share of energy from wind and solar farms was a paltry 2.9% whereas the share of energy production from green and renewable sources was 20.9%.

Mauritius has undertaken to increase the share of electricity production from green or renewable sources to 35% by 2025 but must aim to exceed this target within this timeline. Mauritius has also undertaken to cut down its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 30% by 2030. More importantly, the production of energy must be democratized with the induction of more operators instead of being ring fenced among the same major energy producers in the country.

Absurd turf wars

It is evident that the national policy on energy is also the object of acrimonious and absurd turf wars between the leaders of the MMM and the Muvman Liberater. Why can’t politicians stop their petty politicking at a time when the world faces such an important and grave crisis?

It should be flagged in this context that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is cleaner than coal in terms of carbon emissions and toxic pollutants. Burning LNG in power plants produces roughly 40 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal. This is based on a series of studies that compared the total lifecycle emissions of both fuels based on extraction, production, shipping and burning in power plants overseas. LNG also has a higher energy value, meaning that it generates more electricity per tonne than coal. In such a context, why are there so many insidious attempts from different quarters to shoot down the government-CEB LNG project?

Axing coal

In order to have clarity of thought, it is crucially important to hierarchize the different fossil fuels used to produce electricity. Coal is by far the most polluting and worst fossil fuel used to produce electricity. Rationality and common sense require that it should be the first to be phased out and ended. In contrast, Liquefied Natural Gas is the least polluting among the fossil fuels.

As a Small Island Developing Country (SIDS), Mauritius is very vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of climate change in terms of coastal erosion, rising sea temperatures and the bleaching of corals in the country’s lagoons and climate change related extreme weather conditions which cause hardships to people. It is therefore only if, as a nation, we do what it takes to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and take cogent steps to cut our dependence on highly pollution coal and produce more energy from green and renewable sources that we can stand on a high moral ground to speak on behalf of SIDS on the serious threats facing island states and low lying coastal areas in a host of countries across the world.

The current situation is not sustainable. The disastrous threats of climate change on the world therefore require bold and robust actions. This is not the time for greed, anachronistic coal lobbies and half measures. We must in priority significantly cut down our CO2 emissions, axe and phase out the use of coal to produce electricity and take potent and innovative steps to significantly increase the production of electricity in the country from green and renewable sources.

No country can sit on the fence or act in isolation. The onus is collectively on all of us. In the caucus of nations, we need to take all necessary actions and do our share to contribute meaningfully to safeguard our planet for our children and for future generations. Time is running out. There can only be one outcome. We have to succeed.

* Published in print edition on 8 February 2019

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