New Caledonia to become the second greatest source of CO2 emissions per capita

SLN_ENERCAL 3With the decision on 6 December 2012 to opt to install a coal power plant to power our Noumea nickel mine (Société Le Nickel [SLN]), I was stunned by the silence. Very few in the city or the country seemed to react to what this decision would mean. This week, however, we’ve seen headlines in reputable papers like Le Monde which read, “La Nouvelle-Calédonie rejettera en 2015 autant de CO2 qu’un pays du Golfe” (New Caledonia to emit as much CO2 in 2015 as a Gulf country). Other articles put New Caledonia behind Qatar for the highest CO2 emissions per capita. The news is spreading.

Last week a Belgian petition against the plant circulated on line and has so far amassed only 766 signatures. Another one, or perhaps the same one (as it seems to me), is available here. It is purported to have amassed 1,100 signatures (this may include physical signatures).

“In the coming years, New Caledonia will increase its CO2 emissions 36.8 tonnes per capita per year, an increase of over 165% in less than ten years “, warn environmental organization Conservation International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in a letter addressed to the president of the New Caledonian government.

Apparently, New Caledonia is absent from the Kyoto Protocol: France did not include in its calculations of CO2 . But our case is all the more sensitive, as New Caledonia is located in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change. As a continent made up of islands and atolls, Oceania suffers the brunt of rising sea levels. Global warming worsens climatic phenomena in the region and impacts the health of our human populations, fisheries and food crops.

Yet, the local population remains silent (refer to my theory of life in a time warp).

The mayor of Nouméa, who has refused to comment since December on the coal project stated yesterday that he would state his position following the presentation by the SLN Municipal Council. A meeting is to be fixed quickly.

Meanwhile, the president of Ensemble Pour La Planete (EPLP, a non-profit parent environmental association), Martine Cornaille, wrote the French president in December, and has now sent a second letter to François Hollande asking him to press the SLN to study the solution of a solar thermodynamic plant. She’s now also sent a third letter, asking the French president to include New Caledonia in the scope for the Kyoto 2 protocol, to commit New Caledonia to reducing CO2 emissions and forcing the SLN to draw a line on the plant.

SLN_ERAMET_05And yet, the SLN continues on its way. Pierre Alla, the Chair of the SLN Board of Directors, has said that the machine has started. Nothing will get in the way of his “coal plan” (which, by the way was voted in as a the best economic alternative to fixing/replacing one of the failing plants with a gas plant).

Martine Cornaille, the EPLP president, remains optimistic. She has said that they (EPLP) will hold further discussions, and this, at the request of residents of Paita and Dumbéa. “Citizen mobilization has already sunk projects, such as hotels at the Baie des Citrons or  Casy Island. We can still turn the tide.”

Yet, when I looked into the participation at one of the recent events organised by EPLP, only 70-some people showed up. If we’re looking for citizen mobilisation, we have a distance to go. (Yet on the other hand, hundreds demonstrated this weekend against gay marriage; says a lot about our priorities, doesn’t it?).

What boggles this particular mind is all the money that is being lost on the nickel mine in Noumea. According to an article on 25 February,  Eramet, the parent of the SLN recorded a net profit of 8 million euros, a decrease of 96% compared to 2011, an operating profit of $144 million (-74%), and a turnover of 3.447 billion (-4.3%). “A very difficult economic environment” has affected the balance sheet, senior officials say.

And so we want to build a coal plant to make things better? Really? Is that all we’ve got?

With any luck (and a lot of work), the coal plant will not be built in 2016-17. That’s a long way off, and as one Caledonian recently said (about the independence vote), “a lot can happen between now and then.” Having been here 8 months, though, I’m not confident it will be stopped. I just see those in power powering their way through and a population held hostage (by a high cost of living). People are voting with their pockets, living in the present. “Don’t worry, be happy” gone just a little too far.

When you ask the people who work at the mine how they feel about all this, their response is, “We are glad that our children have jobs.” Their jobs are all they have. I wonder what they’ll have when they don’t have their health, when their fisheries and crops suffer, when the sea level rises. What will their kids have then? Jobs?

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For those of you who want to know more about this decision, and how we came to it, see La SLN vers le charbon and Charbon au gout amer. If you cannot access the links, let me know in the comments and I’ll send them to you.

If you feel strongly about this, I encourage you to sign the petition, no matter where you are in the world. And if you are here,  to get involved. This is too important to just let happen.

9 thoughts on “New Caledonia to become the second greatest source of CO2 emissions per capita

  1. Your posts on life in Noumea are usually very illuminating indeed but one must take issue with your latest effort. Of course a country with a population of about 250,000 people is going to rank highly when coupled with a coal plant. Per-capita figures are the usual fall-back position of green propagandists. Apart from that, keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for your comment, Christopher. I agree that 1 coal plant for a population of 250,000 will rank high (which is why I included per capita in the title of the blogpost, as opposed to some articles that are leaving it out). New Caledonia will most likely continue to invest in its nickel mines. I just wish they would do so responsibly. :)

  2. Yes, well, one is sure you wouldn’t agree with a uranium-powered plant, jhwordsmith, which would be the cleanest way to go!

  3. It is sad how much pollution there is here in Nouméa considering NC is so developed. We were surprised with how often we have to sweep the floors due to the large amount of black sooty dust and how quickly it accumulates on the windows and cars. I know we need power generation to keep us running, but, like you said, it needs to be done responsibly and with consideration of the future instead of looking for these quick fixes that NC seems to love…

    • I hear you, Josh. Actually the pollution you are experiencing is due not to power plants, but to the nickel mine. It is pumping regularly (I watch it and photograph it some days from our balcony). And that is where they want to build the coal plant (to help power it). I’m afraid we’ll see far more sooty dust in the years to come if another solution is not found.

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