Where king coal
is a cruel ruler

Coal imported from Russia leaves a trail of destruction

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Much of the coal imported into the UK has devastated the communities and ecosystems where it is mined, say campaigners. They are urging the country to stop buying coal from Russia, Colombia and the US.

Nearly a third of the UK’s coal comes from Russia, most of it from the Kuzbass region in Siberia. Coal is exempt from the sanctions enforced on Russia due to the situation in Ukraine.

The coal is transported thousands of miles by rail and sea to the UK. Campaigners say it has caused environmental devastation.

“Official figures say that 93 per cent of drinking water is polluted by the coal industry in the region,” said Vladimir Slivyak, who has spent 26 years in the Russian environmental movement.

“Whole villages have disappeared. Indigenous people haven’t generally been forcibly evicted. Rather, the area where they live has become unliveable due to pollution.

“The villages of at least one indigenous tribe, the Teluet, have disappeared entirely. They have had to go and live in the city. Their nationality no longer exists.

“The Shors are another indigenous people, of whom 5,000-6,000 still live in the region. The land and cultural heritage of both groups has been systematically taken away from them to make way for coal mining operations.

“Many have been left homeless or displaced, the connection with their spiritual homes broken, their culture attacked and their language fading from use.”

Black snow

In Kuzbass black snow falls in the winter due to the pollution. Coal dust created by explosions in open pit mines covers the vegetables people try to grow. Dust also gets blown down from the mountain-like piles of waste.

A UN report has revealed high levels of bronchopulmonary disorders and deaths.

“Eighty per cent of bronchopulmonary disorder-related deaths are attributed to the coal industry,” said Slivyak, who has spent the last two weeks touring the UK to raise awareness of the damage caused by Russian coal mining.

“Women experience reproductive problems, and children suffer diseases as they are more vulnerable to the impacts. Men are also susceptible, particularly those who work in the mines.

“Here the coal industry has control over local life. It provides jobs and pays taxes, through which it controls local government.

“Restoration of local land is a huge issue – decades of mining in the region has taken its toll on the landscape. The law requires restoration, but none of the companies are doing this.

“They are doing it on paper but it is clear when you look at an area that they aren’t doing this in reality and the government are not pursuing it. There is a lot of corruption, so local government wouldn’t prosecute the companies.”

Murders

Slivyak’s appearances in the UK follow the publication of a report earlier this year by the Coal Action Network, which also highlighted injustices in mining areas in Colombia and the US, two other major sources of the UK’s imports.

Companies importing coal from Colombia to the UK have been implicated in financing paramilitary mass murders, executions and disappearances in their quest to expand their mining operations. Whole villages have been forcibly evicted to make way for mines, with insufficient relocation plans.

Trade union leaders and others who challenge the mining companies’ practices have received death threats in response to their resistance. In the US mining operations are destroying swathes of land and ecosystems, and poisoning local people. Mountaintop removal and damaging deep mining processes are used by companies exporting coal to the UK. Companies are regularly prosecuted for environmental pollution, usually at the behest of communities resisting coal mining in their locality.

Resident by his burnt-out house in a demolished village in Kuzbass
Resident by his burnt-out house in a demolished village in Kuzbass

Coal production in the UK continues to decline, with the last remaining deep mine closing in December last year. Opencast mine applications are fiercely resisted by residents, who refuse to accept the tearing-up of their landscapes and damage to health.

Slivyak urged an end to UK imports of Kuzbass coal. “The region needs diversification of its economy, environmentally sustainable jobs, non-coal jobs. But local government won’t do anything until the problem of unemployment arises,” he said.

“Stopping buying Russian coal would accelerate this process and have a positive impact on human rights and the environment. The process has already started, with coal consumption already decreasing.

“People, governments and companies can help by starting to ask questions about the sourcing of coal, by asking about the human rights and environmental costs of Russian coal.”

Main photo: coal mining in Kuzbass, Siberia (RAIPON)

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