Feature by Katy Brown on the lack of transparency in the coal supply chain.
(Photograph of a Russian mine in the Kuzbass region. Credit: RAIPON)
The supply chain for coal from Russia to the UK involves a secretive journey, with devastating impacts on indigenous communities and the silencing of groups resisting it. In the year to April 2015, 31% of the coal burnt in the UK came from Russia. Since 2005, Russia has supplied the UK with more of its coal than any other country and in that time the Port of Liverpool has brought significant quantities of this coal ashore.
Between September 2014 and April 2015 alone, 1.38 million tonnes of coal – the majority from Russia – came through the Port of Liverpool, although just three months ago imports of coal into Liverpool ceased, being replaced by biomass, which carries its own environmental impacts.
There is a real lack of transparency in the coal supply chain meaning it is difficult to trace coal from its mine of origin to the power stations where it is ultimately burned, but Ditch Coal, a report released earlier this year by the Coal Action Network, attempts to do just that. By tracking the ships and trains carrying coal, CAN followed the coal from mine to port to power station, demonstrating that the UK is sourcing coal from areas where mining is causing grave problems for local ecosystems and communities. Much of the coal imported into the UK comes from Colombia and the US, but the largest amount comes from Russia.
The dark trail of coal dust weaves a long path through Russia, leaving devastation in its wake, it is very difficult to trace the coal to the area where it was mined. The Kuzbass region produces the greatest amount of coal for export in Russia – a significant quantity of coal from this region is believed to be burnt in UK power stations and used in UK steel manufacturing. The Kuzbass region is the same area where the indigenous Shor, and less well documented Teluet, people live, and are being dispersed from, because of coal mining. Both groups are suffering as direct result of the industry, their land and cultural heritage is being systematically taken away from them to make way for coal mining operations.
Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefence Russia says “The consequences of coal mining in Russia are terrible. There are environmental and economic disasters happening in mining regions, especially in Kuzbass where most of coal reserves are located. Public health is getting worse and worse, indigenous people are being forced out of their land, air and water poisoned.”
The Shors’ experience of coal mining is one of exploitation of the land and waterways on which they are dependent for food, water, and religious practices. There is supposed to be legal protection for the minority groups within Russia, but the experience of the Shor and Teleut people highlights the extent to which this can be trampled upon.
“Like many indigenous populations around the world, they [The Shors] can recount a history of invasion, exploitation, and assimilation into the dominant culture. But they are battling to save their culture and contribute to the global indigenous community.” – Cultural Survival, The Fight To Preserve Shor Culture.
The mining exploits in the Kuzbass region have left many Shor homeless, or displaced to other areas, which severs their spiritual, cultural, and practical attachments to the land. For many their language is fading from use. No useful substitute land, nor compensation, has been offered to them.
The scale of destruction caused by coal mining in Russia is immense. For each tonne of coal produced, six hectares of land is disturbed. The coal industry also has the most dangerous working conditions of any industry, in terms of risk to life and welfare, with 40 – 50 fatal accidents each year.
More coal is imported from Russia to the UK than from any other country. A similar amount of coal is mined in the UK for domestic power stations as is imported from Russia. Smaller quantities of coal are imported from Colombia and the USA to feed the UK’s remaining nine coal fired power stations. The stories of the people living in coal fields in all of the countries supplying our power stations have similarities – pollution of waterways, damaging ecosystems and a worsening of the situation for marginalised groups.
On the 1st of June, during a rare trip to the UK, Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefence Russia will be speaking in Liverpool about the impacts of coal mining in Russia. The event, which includes a film, other speakers and discussion, will inform those who attend not only of the impacts of mining coal to feed UK power stations, but also about the resistance to these mines and UK coal infrastructure.
The event is organised by the Coal Action Network, which invites people to “Come along to find out more and how discuss how together we can end coal’s journey of destruction.”
Ditch Coal: Film, speakers and discussion.
Wednesday 1st June, 6.30pm-8.30pm, at the Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT.
Other UK tour dates can be found here: http://coalaction.org.uk/tour/