A Conversation With Society

The Hearing on Map Ta Phut’s Pollution at Belgian Parliament

26th of October 2005

Map Ta Phut Deep Sea Port in 2016

Dear Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Tara Buakamsri, and I am a representative of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. It is my great honor and privilege to have been invited to speak at today’s hearings regarding the necessary reform of the Belgian export credit agency.

In this speech, I will be speaking on behalf of Mr. Sutti Atchasai, who represents community members in the Map Ta Put Area of Rayong Province, Thailand, whose livelihoods are and will be severely impacted by the construction of a coal power plant. The Belgian Export Credit Agency is supporting the construction of this power plant by providing export credit to a Belgian dredging company.

To give you a clear understanding of the problem, allow me to provide some background information on the “Map Ta Phut” situation.

The Map Tha Put Industrial Area

Map Ta Phut was once just a small rural farming and fishing community. Map Ta Phut had a population of only 8434 people in 1978. After successful natural gas exploration in the Gulf of Thailand in 1981, the Map Ta Put Industrial Estate began to develop, and the industrial area (primarily petrochemical industry) grew from 672 hectares to approximately 1,120 hectares. The expansion converted buffer zones into industrial zones and introduced land reclamation projects. The expansion had significant environmental and health consequences. Map Ta Put’s population has grown to 31,625 people in 25 communities, with 100,000 unregistered workers.

In 1997, a local public school in the Map Ta Put Area was forced to close due to fainting students. The school was eventually closed down and relocated due to air pollution in the industrial zone and its impact on the health of the students.

Despite being promoted as a symbol of national brilliance for industrial development, Map Ta Phut has received widespread criticism due to serious air pollution issues. Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate alone has over 200 smokestacks, which emit pollutants into the 25 communities surrounding the estates. Map Ta Put is a clear and serious example of the negative consequences of industrialization.

The BLCP Coal Power Plant: The Map Ta Put coal power plant is being built by an independent consortium known as BLCP. The 1,434 MW power plant’s construction began in 2003 and will continue until 2007. The project necessitated the deepening of the port and the excavation of a canal to the unloading coal supply zone. The contract for the dredging activities was awarded to the Belgian dredging company Jan De Nul. Delcredere is said to have insured Jan De Nul Enterprise for 2.5 million euros against political risks.

The BLCP berth Project’s dredging and land reclamation at Map Ta Phut caused erosion by disrupting the path of waves and currents. Rayong province’s entire coastal area, including the beach, housing area, and river mouth, is severely eroded. The Thai government has spent over ten million Euros to protect the coast by erecting various structures. Unfortunately, the erosion of the coast is not completely stopped; rather, it is partially transferred along the coast to other areas. The coastal erosion in the area near Map Ta Phut port is so severe that coastal protection is ineffective.

Respectfully addressing Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen, it is important to note that the Thai economy and the livelihoods of the majority of Thai people depend on natural resource-based sectors, such as small-scale fishing and agriculture. Unfortunately, development projects that were not well thought out have caused great suffering for small-scale fishing communities along Rayong’s seacoast. These communities have been forced to abandon the beach area for commercial tourism, and the clear-cutting of mangrove forests for industrial shrimp farming and the transformation of estuaries into industrial effluent drainage systems have further exacerbated the situation. In summary, the entire coastal area of the province is currently under threat.

Protests in the Community

Because of concerns about negative environmental and health impacts, the Thai government initially requested that the project developers consider a gas-fired power plant over a coal-fired power plant. However, due to Australian pressure, the coal power plant was chosen. The Map Ta Put plant will be powered by bituminous coal imported from Australia.

In 2001, residents of Map Ta Phut began to protest BLCP’s coal plant project. Local residents were concerned that the project, which was part of the Map Ta Phut port expansion, would exacerbate already severe water and air pollution, so they filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Community opposition, on the other hand, has been gradually eroded by a well-funded campaign to disorganize protest and create tension among local communities. BLCP set aside approximately 500,000 euros in 2004 for the implementation of its community relations programme.

BLCP has done little to encourage public involvement in the development of its coal plant project. The Tripartite Committee of the BLCP was formed in 2002 to replace the public hearing mechanism. The tripartite committee has been repeatedly chastised for being ineffective in resolving disputes between local communities and proponents of contentious projects.

Climate change and the MapTa Put project

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, emitting 29% more CO2 than oil and 80% more than gas. Over the next 20 years, the BLCP coal plant project is expected to emit over 229.4 million tonnes of CO2, significantly contributing to global warming and the consequences of climate change. These emissions from this polluting energy project, which is backed by a Belgian export credit agency, are more than four times as bad as the reduction in emissions that Belgium has committed to achieving domestically under the Kyoto Protocol.

Belgium creates a contradiction in its own policy by supporting environmentally unfriendly projects in developing countries, which will be the primary victims of the effects of climate change. On the one hand, it is attempting to reduce CO2 emissions at home in order to meet its Kyoto commitments. But what good is that if they continue to fund CO2-emitting projects in other countries? Greenpeace Belgium calculated that the total CO2 emissions emitted by a series of energy projects supported by Delcredere are twenty times, yes, twenty times, greater than the domestic reduction Belgium has committed to achieve. Climate change is a worldwide issue. And it is our collective responsibility to find a solution.

When combined with energy efficiency, renewable energy sources provide an immediate solution that is environmentally friendly, safe, and meets the growing energy needs of developing countries. They also have the enormous benefit of providing a solution to the problem of climate change. Furthermore, they enable developing countries to solve their air pollution problems and gain access to modern, low-cost energy. Renewable energies are particularly well suited to the provision of decentralised electricity in remote areas where the construction of electricity networks is prohibitively expensive. Renewable energy sources are thus a critical component of sustainable development in the countries of the South. Greenpeace research, on the other hand, reveals that the total amount of export credit agreed by the Delcredere for renewable energy projects remains the same: none.

Instead of investing in dirty fossil fuel energy, Export Credit Agencies like Delcredere should seriously consider funding clean renewable energy projects, especially in countries like Thailand, where renewable energy has enormous potential. According to Thai Ministry of Energy data, Thailand has more than 14,000 MW of renewable energy potential, including 7,000 MW of biomass, more than 5000 MW of solar PV, 1600 MW of wind, and 700 MW of small hydro. Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the International Institute for Energy Conservation, Thailand has a 2,000-3,000 MW potential from a Demand Side Management (DSM) Program. The Map Ta Phut coal power plant is unnecessary with this programme alone.

Respectfully, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope that the Map Ta Put case has demonstrated how ECA policies can influence the development of developing countries and the well-being of their citizens. I hope that these hearings are only the beginning of a thorough discussion about how to improve Delcredere’s operation. On behalf of Rayong’s local communities, I would like to take this opportunity to urge Belgium’s export credit agency to:

  • Stop granting export credits to projects associated with coal and oil projects in developing countries.
  • Instead, support renewable energy sources and energy-efficiency projects in those countries ; and
  • Implement ambitious mandatory environmental, social, and sustainability standards for all export credits.

I appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck with your Delcredere work.

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