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Report highlights how Bristol port’s role in supplying coal to UK is linked to destruction

While coal is often talked about as a driver of climate change, little is said about where the coal comes from. A new report by the Coal Action Network shows that the UK is sourcing coal from areas where coal mining is causing grave problems for local ecosystems and communities.

The Ditch Coal report – named after its conclusions- also traces the journey coal from foreign mines to seven UK ports and power stations. With 2.48 million tonnes (MT) of coal imported through its docks, the port of Avonmouth is a key point of entry to the UK. On 11th November, the Glory Pegasus unloaded coal from Russia and the Madredeus unloaded coal from Virginia, US.

The majority of coal is unloaded at the larger Royal Portbury docks. Up to 600,000 tonnes are stockpiled there for later loading on to trains at the Portbury railhead, or taken via Europe’s longest coal conveyor belt to another railhead in Avonmouth.

98 fully laden coal trains departed from Port of Avonmouth carrying coal in the week beginning 16th November. The trains head through Long Ashton and  Bedminster, or via the Severn Beach line, to Rugeley, Fiddlers Ferry, Aberthaw, Uskmouth, Ratcliffe and Cottam coal fired power stations.

coal ports around the uk

Who is affected by coal extraction?

Russian coal mostly comes from the Kuzbass region. The coal mining operations are resulting in the indigenous Shor and Teluet communities’ land and cultural heritage being systematically taken away from them. “If they don’t sell their houses and estates to Yuzhnaya, then the houses might burn down.” said Ilgiz Khalimov, director of Yuzhnaya a company supplying the UK. Later that month arson attacks started, these cleared the way for the mine to expand and for the entire village of Kazas to be destroyed. Eight other villages nearby have been destroyed.

Companies owning opencast mining operations in Colombia 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. “The companies talk about voluntary displacement, but it is forced displacement. At the moment they are evicting people from Boquerón. We are worried. We are fighting to get land titles for our collective land. This will help us protect our ecosystem as they push to expand the mine” said Nubia Maria Florian Ditta, Member of Las Cruces Community Council Chiriguaná, where the expansion of Drummond’s mine threatens the village.

Mountaintop removal mining, as the name suggests, is an extremely destructive mining method and is used extensively in the USA. Huge swathes of land and ecosystems are destroyed and coal pollutes the water downstream of the mines, in the rivers carrying coal barges and in the port cities exporting to the UK.

In the South Wales valleys, opencast mine applications are fiercely resisted by local residents, who refuse to accept the tearing up of their landscapes and the associated impacts on community health. Yet they must endure years of endless and stressful engagement with the planning process to contest them.

Shared Responsibility

In 2014, 30% of the electricity produced in the UK came from coal fired power stations. As Bristol is tied to the National Grid’s centralised energy system, the city is as reliant on coal for its electricity needs.

In December, the government announced a coal phase out by 2025 subject to a consultation and other caveats. This means another ten years of people being forced out of their homes, adverse health impacts inflicted on communities, of water being polluted, of mountain tops being removed.

Whilst 65% of coal burnt in the UK comes from Russia, Colombia and the USA, ports, power stations and energy companies are not obliged to disclose where their coal is sourced from. The 13 coal reliant power stations were asked which mines they sourced coal from and only RWE, the owners of Aberthaw, partially replied, listing the Welsh mines it sources from. Arguments of commercial confidentiality and claims of corporate social responsibility were otherwise made in response.

Despite using all publicly available sources of information to attempt to uncover the supply chain of coal, it has not been possible to follow coal from a specific mine to the port and power station that consumes it, in an unambiguous line.

On a local level, the Bristol Port Company, who controversially acquired the freehold of the port land from the City Council in June 2015, are a private company and therefore not required to prove that they are not sourcing coal from areas where human and environmental destruction has been identified. If the source is particularly damaging, they share a part of responsibility for these consequences.

Companies pursue coal extraction which uses the cheapest and easiest methods – often the most environmentally damaging – in areas where labour costs are lowest, and environmental and human rights legislation is weakest. The government, -through its legislation-, consumers of the end product – through electricity supplied with harmful coal extraction -, and those who buy and enable the import of this coal have the burden of responsibility for the abuses in the coal supply chain.

Event: Buried Sunshine brings us stories of courage and dignity from these hidden lives and lands. Through a guided tour, mapping, monologues, film, lecture and conversation we consider our relationship to the lives of those affected by coal mining.

Hamilton House, 7.30pm, Wednesday 17th February,

Tickets available soon at:

The Coal Action Network calls on an urgent phase out of coal through prompt meaningful action, with legally binding legislation to ensure that there are no u-turns by future governments, action against mining, coal infrastructure, and power station operators using diverse methods including divestment, direct action and solidarity with directly affected communities.

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