Thermal coal emits miniscule sulphur dioxide

Letters, Normal


I REFER to the report “Coal project dangerous, NRI warns” in The National (Aug 17).
Having a limited knowledge is also a dangerous thing!
The NRI report makes a big deal about acid rain which, it claimed, was a 1990s phenomenon that led to the so-called “cap and trade” programme affecting greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, acid rain had been recognised as a problem in the 1970s, especially in North America and in northern Europe, where the culprits were coal-fired power stations mainly in Britain and Germany.
The British were, in fact, exporting the acid rain to Norway, Sweden and other countries.
Acid rain has largely been brought under control with equipment to control emissions in these two continents even though it was only in 1990 that the US passed legislation to cut down on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
NRI simplifies things too much by suggesting that these two gases dissolved in rain water to form acid rain.
In fact, they combine with other gases in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid which then affects rainfall.
The “cap and trade” programme, which is effectively a way of developed countries partly excusing their high levels of greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries to reduce their industrialisation programmes and promote afforestation, has to do with a somewhat different environmental issue, that is, the huge increase in carbon dioxide emissions globally along with some other greenhouse gases. 
While it is true that a coal-fired power plant in PNG could undermine our credentials in the fight against climate change, this view is certainly arguable.
It should be noted that even a tiny reduction in the amount of bush fires burned intentionally in PNG, would have a greater impact on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
The NRI researchers also may not be aware that a coal-fired plant in PNG would emit very little sulphur dioxide because steaming or thermal coal available from either Australia or Indonesia have a very low sulphur content compared to those used in the US, Europe and China. 
Such a plant would emit a large quantity of carbon dioxide but a miniscule proportion when compared with carbon dioxide emissions from other local sources, especially the burning of vegetation and other organic matter.
In one day, coal-fired stations in Australia would emit far more carbon dioxide than PNG could ever do even if our entire national electricity generation was based on coal because a prosperous country like Australia generates so much more power.
Official projections of world usage of coal suggest that over the next 25 years, coal usage will rise by 1.7% annually.
China alone, which burns one billion tonnes annually, is forecast to experience a three-fold increase in its coal use by 2030.


Still in dark ages
Port Moresby