UNEA mercury control plan blow to coal plant
By JOHN MUCHANGI and GILBERT KOECH
Kenya may find it difficult attracting support for the planned coal plants following a raft of resolutions made at the just ended United Nations Environment Assembly.
The delegates, who included ministers of environment, asked countries to take drastic measures to cut mercury pollution, which is estimated to cause deaths of thousands of people every year globally.
“Any threat to our environment is a threat to our health, our society, our ecosystems, our economy, our security, our well-being and our very survival,” the ministers said in a declaration.
The ministers said they will seek the enforcement of various treaties to control pollution, including the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
Burning of coal is the largest single human-caused source of mercury air emissions, having more than tripled since 1970.
Although coal contains only small concentrations of mercury, it is burnt in large volumes.
Some experts say most of this mercury pollution can be reduced by improving coal and plant performance, and optimising control systems for other pollutants.
Others call for banning of new coal plants.
A report released at the meeting by the IPEN network, a Swedish environment lobby, called for the phasing-out of coal-fired power plants, a ban on the mercury trade that serves small-scale gold mining, and for clean-ups of contaminated sites.
Kenya environment minister Prof Judi Wakhungu declined to comment on the planned Lamu Coal plant.
She said Kenya has made strides in controlling pollution.
“We have to look at issues like soil pollution, the chemicals, in all of those target areas, you could see compared to other countries, Kenya has made so many strides, there is no comparison,” she told the Star.
The proposed, Sh210 billion Lamu plant would use low-grade coal imported from South Africa. Several organisations including Unesco, the Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace and the local communities have opposed the plant because of expected pollution. Another coal plant would also be built in Kitui to process coal from the Mui basin.
Prof Wakhungu said the government was working to reduce effluence from industries in Nairobi and other urban areas.
“In terms of chemicals that end up in our soils, we are asserting ourselves, we had a resolution on the lead acid batteries because we know the negative effects they have had here to also manage the lead,” she said.
The just-ended UNEA brought together hundreds of policymakers and scientists, business and civil society leaders to identify ways to combat the pollution and contamination that pushes millions of people into an early grave each year, and is degrading Earth’s resources and life-support systems.
UN Environment head Erik Solheim said the Assembly was an “astonishing success.”
“The challenge now is how do we translate that into real changes in people’s lives. That is what matters,” Solheim said at the closing news conference.