Following Cabinet approval for the use of Coal to generate energy, Civil society: It will not solve problem, will increase current burdens and will eliminate opportunities for future development

Press Release

9 April 2014

The undersigned civil society organizations declared their profound disappointment by the Cabinet’s decision to include Coal as part of Egypt’s energy mix. The organizations warned that this decision, which contravenes constitutional directives on sustainable development, will have serious repercussions for Egyptians’ health, the economy and future generations’ right to development, and they declared their intent to resist the decision and work toward its revocation.

The Cabinet, in a meeting convened on 2 April 2014 devoted to discuss alternative sources of energy to end the crisis facing the country, blackouts and a shortage of fuel for factories, issued a decree allowing the use of coal in Egypt, despite strong objections and repeated warnings from national and international environmental experts, activists and civil society groups, as well as the Ministers of Environment and of Tourism.

The undersigned organizations note that this decree contradicts the very justifications advanced to defend it as a cheap solution to the current energy crisis. Coal use requires major technology overhauls at factories and power plants, as well as special infrastructure to transport and store it, and ports outfitted to receive it. All of these changes require a substantial period of time and massive investments that are not easily found, according to the opinion of numerous independent expert sand experts with the Ministry of Environment. Moreover, in light of global climate change, international donor institutions set limits on funding for carbon-intensive projects.

Coal is cheap only in comparison to the units of energy it produces, but its real cost is high. Coal is the most polluting traditional energy source by far, both in terms of the quality and quantity of hazardous and carcinogenic substances and in terms of the climate-changing gases it produces. Unfortunately, investors and industrialists who use coal do not bear this cost; it is instead paid by citizens who loose their health and money and by the national health sector, all of which are already overburdened by current levels of pollution without coal. A preliminary study prepared by the Ministry of Environment estimates the health cost of coal particle emissions in one industry—the cement industry—at $3–5 billion annually, and this does not count other harmful substances.

Coal usage will inflict serious harm on other sectors of the Egyptian economy, particularly tourism, which comprises a significant source of national income and will be severely damaged by the use of Red Sea and Mediterranean ports to import coal. The transport sector, roads, railroads, ports and infrastructure sectors will also be harmed, bearing the burden to receive, store and transport this massive quantity of coal.

The undersigned organizations note that although the Cabinet decree requires compliance with environmental standards and regulations and dictates the use of the latest emissions-reducing technologies, it overlooks that the hazards of coal exist even with the most advanced technology, and opposition to coal is strong in developed countries that use these technologies and apply the strictest standards. It must also be apparent to the Cabinet that legal and administrative instruments for environmental protection in Egypt are weak, as is the capacity and will to implement them. Most existing industries have records filled with environmental violations, which pass without any accountability, the best evidence of this being the current levels of pollution.

The undersigned organizations stress that there are a variety of solutions to the energy crisis that have been repeatedly proposed by experts. These involve an integrated package of measures to rationalize use, improve efficiency, amend the regime of energy subsidies to industry and move toward a green economy and renewable energy, a field where Egypt enjoys a distinct advantage, and specifically in light of the a constitution that adopts the principles of sustainable development. Directing massive investments into coal, as a source of cheap, but polluting energy, is likely to forestall the chance to move toward a future of development in which Egypt possesses its own sources of energy.

The undersigned organizations stress that the real beneficiaries of this decree are the owners of energy intensive factories. Given the difficulty of obtaining subsidized cheap energy—natural gas, diesel, electricity—as they used to, they are now looking for a new cheap source, even if it is subsidized by the health of Egyptians and the future of coming generations.

The decisiveness with which the interim government—in the absence of an elected parliament—made such a strategic decision that will affect the lives of Egyptians and the future of the country for decades to come is a striking contrast to the clear reluctance to take more effective measures, such as amending energy subsidies for industry. This contrast raises serious questions about the links between intensive energy-consuming companies and the ruling authorities, as well as about the ongoing policies of the regime, which squandered energy resources in the past and continues to do so to this day.

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights
Association for Health and Environmental Development
350 Egypt movement