Environmental Justice Joint Press Releases

Environmental Justice | ECESR Publishes Civil Society Letter to Government Ministers on their Decision to Use Coal

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights sent a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt to the office of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and six other ministers, directly involved in the government’s decision to allow the use of coal for energy production. They included Minister of Industry Trade and Investment Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour and Minister of Electricity and Energy Mohamed Shaker.

The letter was mailed on April 1, 2014 but the undersigned organizations have not received any replies from offices of ministers mentioned below.

ECESR decided to publish the letter, in order to ensure transparency and document the issue of coal and its future repercussions.

ECESR would like to point out that correspondences with governmental and international bodies – such as the letter to the EBRD over its financing of coal dependent Egyptian government projects – is part of a series of efforts to urge everyone to take action regarding this threat. The correspondences are part of continuous efforts by civil society organizations to communicate with responsible authorities, the Egyptian government in particular, which we hope will initiate a serious dialogue involving all stakeholders and all those who will carry the burdens of decisions from which they are excluded.

To:

  • Prime Minister Mr. Ibrahim Mahlab
  • State Minister for Environmental Affairs Mrs. Laila Iskandar
  • Minister of Industry Trade and Investment Mr. Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour
  • Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Mr. Sharif Ismail
  • Minister of Electricity and Energy Mr. Mohamed Shaker
  • Minister of Health and Population Dr. Adel Adawi
  • Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation Dr. Ayman Farid Abou Hadid

Cairo, April 1, 2014

Prime Minister Mr. Ibrahim Mahlab

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Lately, the media covered a discussion among concerned ministries and institutions regarding the proposed use of coal as an alternative energy source, due to disruptions in natural gas supplies. More recently, the Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade announced that cement factories will begin using coal starting September 2014. The decision was reached despite the disagreement between the Ministry of Industry and Trade, on one hand, and the Ministry of Environment, on the other.

The undersigned civil society organizations are writing this letter to express concerns about the ministry of industry’s decision to use coal as an alternative source of energy. This is based on the following reasons:

The real cost of using coal lies in its environmental and health hazards, which lead to economic harm, contrary to what is claimed by the Association of Cement Factory Owners. They seek to import coal claiming it guarantees a quick and reliable solution to the problem of irregular natural gas supplies. However, this suffers from the lack of an objective vision in which all stakeholders should participate.

Furthermore, the cabinet’s decision neglects those who will be the primary victims of importing coal to Egypt, which will be the residential and touristic communities around the cement factories. They will be the first to pay the price, from their health, livelihoods, and illness induced poverty, to expand the profits of cement factories.

The coal-burning process leads to air pollution, which leads to harming public health. It causes blockages in blood vessels and the lungs, in addition to cancer, not to mention the negative impact on the health of workers in cement factories utilizing coal. This will be added to the deteriorating situation of health and social insurances, among other violated rights, making it difficult for workers to face the health repercussions of coal.

On the environmental level, mercury deposits in the water during coal washing operations will have a harmful impact on fish and, thus, on humans. This is not to mention coals’ chief impact on climate change. According to a 2012 report by the World Bank, by 2100, CO2 emissions will have raised Earth’s temperature to an extent that it would lead to catastrophic changes, including intense heat waves, depletion of global food stocks, and rising sea levels. The negative impact on the environment and health will start to appear seven years after starting to use coal.

The current talk about the possibility of avoiding the negative impact of coal through the use of modern technology are not based on reality, as this type of technology will not be available before 2030. Although minister Abdel-Nour emphasized that cement factories will abide by the standards set by the environment ministry, it should be noted that in 2009, around 7 out of Egypt’s 16 factories failed to comply with the standards. This raises questions regarding the steps, which the ministry plans to adopts, to guarantee that those factories will observe the new environmental standards.

As for the other claim that China, Germany, and the US are using coal to generate power, all those countries are beginning to phase it out, despite being their primary source of energy historically. They are moving towards solar power and generating power from waste products. In the German cement industry, 61% of generated power comes from garbage. By 2009, 98% of the power used in cement production in Holland was from that source. The above countries’ capabilities and infrastructure, however, which allow for the import, transportation, and storage of coal, were not taken into consideration in relation to Egypt’s capacity.

The decision was made despite the lack of comprehensive economic studies concerning the feasibility of using coal, the stability of its prices, and its environmental outcomes and repercussions. There is a crucial need to reconsider economic policies. However, if the use of coal aims to solve the problem of energy for the cement industry – one of the most lucrative industries, considering the amount of subsidies it receives –, unreasonable spending on energy for industry will lead to above average energy consumption. This is referred to as excessive use of energy, where energy consumption for each production is higher by almost 40%. In the absence of an economic plan for sustainable development, this will lead to additional harm to the environment and health, leading to additional economic burdens.

Transparency was absent, as was a societal dialogue. The stakeholders’ umbrella grew smaller and was limited to owners of companies and plants, in addition to the concerned ministries. Regular Egyptian citizens, who will carry the burden, were not represented. The decision is also being considered in the absence of a people’s assembly, which should represent and reflect the various segments of the population.

There is a need for a wide societal dialogue about the government’s proposal to use coal as a source of energy, which will change the map of energy, health, and environment as a whole. The dialogue should involve political parties, social groups and movements, specialized environmentalists, workers’ unions, and the Medical Syndicate.

Finally, as civil society organizations concerned with the issue, we call on the council of ministers to reconsider the decision, taking into account all relevant parties. Such a decision might achieve the goals of a number of cement company owners, but this will be at the expense of the health of Egyptians and the rights of future generations in a clean environment.

Signatories:

  • Egyptian Center for Civil and Legislative Reform
  • Egyptian Association for Collective Rights
  • Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
  • Amr al-Shura, member of the board of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate