Say No to Coal: Focus On Renewable Energy Instead
While using our local sources of coal may seem attractive as a low-cost form of energy, the long-term costs are high, taking into account health and clean-up implications from air and water pollution from both coal mining and power generation, and climate-related disasters from the amount of greenhouse gases released from power generation.
A 2014 Federal Report from Australia, where Malaysia currently imports 19% or coal from, found that coal mining contributes more than 30 times the amount of PM10 to Australian air than vehicle emissions do. Particulate matter such as PM10 (inhalable particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter) is classed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation and is linked to a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including premature delivery, birth defects, lung cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
Further, while the Prime Minister is rightly concerned about radioactivity from nuclear waste, studies have shown that fly ash and bottom ash from coal power generation also have considerable amounts of radioactivity.
With these health and environmental impacts, it is no wonder Sabahans rejected the building of coal power plants in Sabah in previous years.
On the same day the address was given, researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published a paper warning that the world is dangerously close to a climate change tipping point – which means that once we reach this point the world will change and it would be impossible to revert back to our current state.
In an interview with The Independent, the authors supported the view that governments need to significantly increase efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, the limit agreed for the Paris Agreement.
This view also reflects analysis from the UN that the commitments made by governments to reduce greenhouse gases are thus far only one-third of what is needed to stay below a 2°C warming.
Last week the world has seen “Super typhoon” Manghkut and Hurricane Florence wreak death and destruction on opposite sides of the world, and a changing climate only promises more of this extreme weather.
It is therefore understandable that the rakyat has expressed concern – a survey conducted by a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) before the 14th Malaysian General Election found that over 80% of the 1603 respondents were concerned about climate change.
This is unsurprising given the number of climate change-related natural disasters that have affected Malaysia in the last few years. These include severe dry periods that exacerbated the haze and resulted in water rationing, major floods in northern states as well as Sabah and Sarawak, regular flash floods in the Klang Valley, and landslides in Penang and Cameron Highlands, to name just a few.
The new government’s commitment to address climate change was affirmed through the formation of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, the first Ministry for climate change in our nation’s history. Since taking office, as well as reiterating that the new government will not continue with nuclear power, Minister YB Yeo has made various announcements in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement to scale down our greenhouse gas emissions, including focusing on renewable energy over coal and introducing an energy efficiency bill.
The stated government ambition is to raise renewable energy capacity to 20% of our energy mix by 2025, without the use of large-scale hydropower. Replacing retiring energy capacity and generating new capacity with renewable energy will go a long way towards addressing our greenhouse gas emissions – the lifecycle emissions of renewable energy are 0.01% – 5% of those of coal energy per KwH.
Renewable energy also has the added benefit of flexibility in terms of placement of energy generation – unconnected rural areas would benefit from on-site renewable energy solutions without the expense of setting up connections to a main grid, which is what would be needed to connect to a conventional station.
Equally important to expanding renewable energy contribution to our energy mix is the introduction of the Energy Efficiency Conservation Bill. Through effective policies, an Energy Efficiency bill would address energy wastage, reducing the expected increase in future energy demand for a developing nation and limiting the need to build extra energy capacity in the future.
We urge the government to follow through with these reaffirmations, setting a strong foundation for the new government’s legacy on this critical issue of climate change, where the results from actions taken now will span generations. Mining and burning coal has large long-term costs and implications to health and environment. To keep our commitment to the Paris Agreement but more importantly to protect the safety and wellbeing of the rakyat, Malaysia needs to phase out the use of coal power and focus instead on developing renewable energy capacity and energy demand management to address our national energy needs.
Dr. Henry Chan
Conservation Director, WWF-Malaysia
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For more information, please contact:
Elaine Clara Mah
Senior Communications Officer - Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +60 88 262 420 (Ext. 121)