Seanad debates

Tuesday, 5 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Energy Policy

1:00 pm

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

The importation of coal from the Cerrejón mine in La Guajira, Colombia, has been the subject of long-standing serious concern especially when, having previously ceased imports, the ESB resumed purchasing coal from the controversial mine in 2022. Cerrejón is the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America. There is a litany of documented human rights, and environmental harms and damages, associated with the mine and its activities. A 2020 report by Christian Aid found that "Over the course of its history it has been linked to the expulsion of up to 35 indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities." It also found that the pumping of contaminated water into the Ranchería river "is linked to elevated levels of cancer, reproductive ailments and renal and liver problems", as well as the extraordinary environmental damage to the river itself.

In 2023, a report from Columbian NGOs, Censat Agua Viva, CENSAT, and the Center for Research and Popular Education, CINEP, with support from Oxfam Colombia, found that indigenous communities are subjected to violence, threats and harassment when attempting to peacefully resist their dispossession and displacement. The report also highlighted that pit expansion, since 2017, has sought to divert a 3.6 km stretch of the Arroyo Bruno, which is the main source of water for more than 40 indigenous communities. The report notes that the current closure plan for the mine is likely to exacerbate human rights and environmental rights as there is no comprehensive or credible plan to remedy decades of environmental harm and human rights. There is no repair. Indeed, there is huge anxiety that communities will be left with a scarred environment as the company walks away with its profits.

Last autumn, the ESB took another massive shipment of coal from Cerrejón. Apparently it took workers two weeks to empty a ship of 180,000 tonnes of coal here in Ireland. However, we still do not have clarity on how much coal the ESB has imported, how long these stocks will last, whether further purchases are planned and, crucially, whether the stated commitment to stop burning coal at Moneypoint by 2025 is going to be pushed back.

The ESB is 97% State owned. It is a vehicle for the Government's energy policy. The lack of transparency is not acceptable. The failure to address human rights concerns is also not acceptable. I note that in previous responses to this query the ESB cited its membership of the Bettercoal initiative. This is an initiative which has been highlighted by civil society organisations as a non-transparent industry-funded initiative. It is an initiative from the coal industry itself and many EU energy companies have distanced themselves or left that initiative.There is a mediation process under way between the ESB, the Global Action Legal Network, GLAN, and Christian Aid, due to a serious complaint that has been lodged in respect of the ESB's purchases. Let us be really clear. We should not be purchasing coal from the Cerrejón mine, on which the UN has been clear and spoken about it being in breach of human rights. There are 12 High Court rulings in relation to violations of the communities' human rights. Now that a right to a healthy environment is recognised as a human right internationally we should not be part of that. I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer this issue. What actions will the Government take, first of all to distance ourselves from these appalling practices and for the fact of the 180,000 tonnes that have been imported into this State after we knew about the human rights violations? Again, I hope the answer is not going to be the better coal initiative because that is for the industry. We need to be listening to the UN standards on the human rights. What are our plans to contribute to the transition as this mine closes, to climate justice, and indeed to the repair work that will be needed?


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