World Human Rights Cities Forum, Environmental Justice by Hemanatha Withanage

This is important stuff, and shows the massive difference the effects of global warming have.  Rich countries cause it, poor coutries suffer form it.  — Doug

In Gwangju, South Korea, (ROK) the World Cities Human Rights Forum kicked off a week of human rights workshops, and the marking of the 34th Anniversary of the May 18th, 1980 Uprising that say many killed in what would become the most significant catalyst for direct democratic voting, which began in 1987 in the ROK.

The best of what I attended was a speech by Hemanatha Withanage, the Executive Director of Sri Lanka’s Center for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Foundation.

He minced no words about how electricity used and generated by wealthy countries effected both the environment of the whole planet, and the exemplifies the gap between the rich and the poor in India, or Africa or Sri Lanka, versus Europe, the United States and the wealthier segments of Asia and the rest of the world.

Here’s the first half of what he said:


Energy Justice and Human Rights in Asia
By HEMANTHA WithanageExecutive Director, Center for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth, Sri Lanka
Over 300 million Indian citizens have no access to frequent electricity. Of those who did have access to electricity in India, the supply was intermittent and unreliable. However, the electricity sector in India had an installed capacity of 243.02 GW as of March 2014. Meantime the Narmada Valley Development Project the single largest river development scheme in India will displace approximately 1.5 million people from their land.Access to affordable energy is a right of all. It is well known factor that people in developed countries consume more energy than those who live in developing countries. Although I don’t believe that increased energy consumption is necessary for sustainable development, everyone needs to have access to the basic energy needs.

Energy consumption in developed countries is far higher compare to developing countries. For example per capita energy consumption in United States 300.91 GJ, United Arab Emirates 347.40 GJ, South Korea 212.52 GJ, Japan 163.73 GJ. However Sri Lanka is only 20.07 GJ and Bangladesh is only 8.77 GJ. This energy mostly comes from the fossil fuel burning and the contribution of the renewable sources is very little.

Meantime, the said economies mostly have acquired the space with the green house gas emissions from the fossil fuel burning. In such a situation even if the Bangladesh wants to consume the same energy, there is no space since the climate change is already adversely impacting the world.

On the other hand Bangladesh is one of the country facing serious climate impacts. Similarly many small island nations, the poorer nations face more severe climate impacts due to the poor housing, unsuitable locations, etc.

Energy Justice recognizes the inequality that exists in accessing energy resources, associated health


and environmental implications associated with the resource used. This theory is based on the premise that access to energy is more equitably available ensuring that health risks are phased out and replaced with sources that are reliable and sustainable.Energy justice issues may be varying from place to place. For example rural communities in some developed countries are off grid is an energy justice issue. Placement of hazardous equipment, coal or nuclear facilities around local communities is also an issue of energy justice. Time spent collecting biomass materials detracts from other pursuits such as education and livelihood pursuits in developing countries is an energy justice issue too.

Meanwhile, health and environmental issues in both developed and developing countries or impacts on agricultural land are also energy justice issues. Indoor pollution is responsible for 1.6 million deaths per year, which is one life lost every 20 seconds is an energy justice issue too.

Around the world, working class and low-income communities, communities of color and minority races, Indigenous Peoples and workers are the first and most impacted by polluting and exploitative energy industries, including biomass incineration. Non renewable energy production harm the communities, health, economies and the ecosystems we rely upon with a range of destructive and exploitative practices from industrial extraction, production, trade, waste and pollution, including climate-altering pollution and toxic emissions.

Despite the fact that burning coal is the main reason for climate change, world is still building more and more coal power plants. There are over 2300 coal-fired power stations (7000 individual units) worldwide. World coal production in 2011 is approximately 7678 million tons.

Sri Lanka is going to build 4700 MW coal capacity by 2032 when the required capacity is only less than 2000 MW. India is building 4000 MW coal power plant (Tata Mundra) and many other similar facilities. In India alone 551 proposed coal power plants will generate 616,879 MW and releases 3,648,034,879 Metric Tons of 002. In many such places people’s objections on the ground has already subjected to human rights violations.

According to Benjamin K. Sovacool 279 major energy accidents occurred from 1907 to 2007 and they caused 182,156 deaths with $41 billion in property damages. Coal mining accidents resulted in 5,938 immediate deaths in 2005, and 4746 immediate deaths in 2006 in China alone according to the World Wildlife Fund.



Coal mining is the most dangerous occupation in China, the death rate for every 100 tons of coal mined is 100 times that of the death rate in the US and 30 times that achieved in South Africa. Moreover 600,000 Chinese coal miners, as of 2004, were suffering from ‘black lungVCoal worker’s pneumoconiosis, a disease of the lungs caused by long-continued inhalation of coal dust. And the figure increases by 70,000 miners every year in China.1Mae Moh Coal power plant built on Thailand in the 80’s with the support of the Asian Development Bank has resulted more than 600 deaths due to respiratory problems and many more are suffering from lung problems. This is the story around many of the coal power plants in the world.

There is no correct figure about the deaths due to the nuclear power plants. A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more. A Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 premature cancer deaths occurred worldwide between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl alone.2

Displacements are also common when setting power plants. Seven people died and many others got wounded when Bangladesh police attached the demonstrators who were opposing to the proposed Asia Energy coal-mine and power plant in Phulbari area. Proposed coal power plant in Sri Lanka in the Sampur area will displace 3500 families.

The contributions of dams to human development cannot be ignored. The more than 45,000 dams around the world helped many communities and countries’ economies in utilizing and harnessing water resources from half of the world’s dammed rivers primarily for food production, energy generation, flood control and other domestic use.

But dams deprived and displaced people. The inundation of land for the reservoir submerged communities (some of these are communities of indigenous people) and altered the riverine ecosystems (upstream and downstream) thus affecting the resources available for land-and-riverine- based productive and economic activities where affected people depend their traditional livelihoods (from agricultural production, fishing, livestock grazing, fuelwood gathering and collection of forest products).

There are about 40-80 million people who have been forcibly evicted or displaced from their homes to

2Alexey V. Yablokov; Vassily B. Nesterenko; Alexey V. Nesterenko (2009). Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment


make way for dams. The impacts of dam-building have been particularly devastating in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Large dams in India and China alone (both in Asian region), could have displaced between 26-58 million people between 1950 and 1990. With the construction of the world’s largest dam, the Three Gorges in China, the level of displacement has increased substantially.3

Energy justice is one of the most important, but least developed concepts in the world. Less attention has been given at the social and equity implications of these dynamic relations between energy and low carbon objectives—the complexity of injustice associated with whole energy systems (from extractive industries, through to consumption and waste) that transcend national boundaries and the social, political-economic and material processes driving the experience of energy injustice and vulnerability.

Most electricity produce by violating the human rights, polluting the environment and basic needs such as water, air and soil finally reach the city population as a clean energy source. Frontline communities and workers—who benefit the least from, contribute the least to, and pay the largest price for the destructive practices of industrialized society—are among those leading the resistance to stop these industrial polluters and are cultivating sustainable community solutions for clean, just and localized economies that will benefit us all. It is believed that frontline communities and workers should play a leadership role in prioritizing and determining transitional strategies toward a community-led clean energy economy.

However, the urban population needs to play a better role for ensuring energy justice. The most important energy choice to make as a nation is how people can reduce own energy consumption to a sustainable level in a just and equitable manner, not which new dirty energy sources should be developed. It is therefore necessary to advocate focusing on energy conservation and efficiency measures, including community and worker-led initiatives that increase public transportation; food localization; zero-waste; and zero-emission, community-controlled energy especially in the cities and for urban population.

City population who believes that there should be no human rights violations when producing energy need to advocate that the energy should be met without harmful and combustion technologies and polluting sources. All energy needs should be approached with conservation and efficiency, with the goal of cutting energy demand as early as possible.


Once prioritize demand reduction, electricity needs should be met only with non-combustion and non­nuclear technologies, with a focus on appropriate use of wind, solar and ocean power which is freely available in the world. Energy production should be decentralized as much as possible to reduce the need for large-scale transmission, which always creates human rights violation at the construction stage.

Transportation energy needs should be met by transitioning from combustion engines to electric vehicles, after cutting demand and improving conservation & efficiency and adding better use of public transport system.

Promoting peoples’ right to energy for their basic needs, transformation of energy systems (local, national and global) away from dirty and harmful energy, excessive energy consumption and fossil fuel dependence, and making the shift to renewable, clean energy systems under democratic control and management people and communities as quickly as possible is vital for energy justice. In the process and fighting for ambitious, adequate, equitable and fair sharing of global efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change are also important for ensuring no human rights violations in energy sector.

Better energy finance will also be another element for energy justice. Integrating human rights into energy projects shifts the traditional technology focus. This leads to a more flexible approach, with projects responding to different local needs, priorities and contexts. Human rights principles such as participation, non-discrimination and equality, and accountability, provide the basis for energy justice.

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