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Extreme weather highlights coal’s toxic legacy

coal’s toxic legacy

Halong Bay. Creative Commons: Alan Doyle, 2014

Both the direct and indirect impacts of coal power have been tragically highlighted across India, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and Vietnam in the last week.

Heavy monsoonal rains and flooding across the region have taken dozens of lives so far, and, in Vietnam, flooding multiple coal mine and power plant sites, threatening the Ha Long Bay UNESCO world heritage area.

Days of intense rainfall in northern Vietnam and resulting flooding has killed 17 people so far.

Some 1,500 tourists had to be evacuated, and the national guard was sent in.

Many people have been driven from their homes in Cam Pha City due to the collapse of a coal ash waste pond, with the spill flooding communities with toxic waste and threatening the Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site.

Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance, Donna Lisenby said:

These coal waste facilities are ticking time bombs if they are not properly constructed to withstand large rainfall events, which are already increasing in frequency, duration and intensity in line with climate science predictions.

Ha Long Bay is surrounded by 5,736 hectares of open pit coal mines, which are now flooded, and more rain is on the way.

Not only does the spill threaten a world heritage icon and hugely popular tourist destination but with the country’s focus on centralised coal for energy also means Vietnam risks running out of fuel within two weeks given its mines are flooded.

The historic rainstorm has also seen five Vietnamese coal carriers sink, and one run aground off the coast of China.

The incidents are a fresh demonstration of the heavy direct toll coal has on the world’s poor and the environment.

But as coal mining and coal-fired power is a known driver of climate change – which is manifesting in increasingly frequent and destructive extreme weather events – it also shows that its indirect impacts are also contributing to its direct ones.

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