Consequences of coal for human rights in Africa:

Are human rights and coal production connected? During COP21, SE visited a panel debate on “Digging deeper: Tracking North to South coal impacts on human rights”. Case studies from South Africa, Egypt, Columbia and India visualized how local municipalities are suffering, and yet they still depend on coal mining and coal consumption.

Coal mining has many consequences – not only for our climate but also for local communities that experience the impact of large-scale mines in their neighbourhood. Houses are often demolished by bulldozers to give space to larger mines and no compensations are given to citizens. Those objecting to the plans of government and mining corporations are threatened and confronted with false accusations. In addition, water resources are misused and polluted that causes increasing levels of sickness and child mortality.

In the documentary “Promises of Lavender” shown at the event, citizens expressed their anger and fear. For example, Zuma Ntuli, a local citizen from South Africa said: “Before the men came we had a dam, but the dam we don’t use now. The mine fenced it, and it belongs to them. When the coal men came, they promised us a lot of big things today, but they grabbed the land from us and dried out our rivers.”

At the same time, the mining industry provides jobs to local communities and increases the standard of living. Many workers are glad to work in the mines. One of the workers expresses: “The coal industry brings development to South Africa and I also want my children to work in the coal mines. I do not think that there is a link between poverty and coal mining.” This presents another challenge for the current COP21 and the transition to low carbon societies: How can workers in carbon intensive industries in the South be offered opportunities in other more sustainable industries without compromising their standard of living?