The “coal capital of Korea” – a province that's home to some of the largest coal plants in the world – has pledged to cut its ties with fossil fuels and transition towards a cleaner, greener energy production.
Chungnam province is where you can find 30 of South Korea’s 61 coal-fired power plants, including the second and third largest coal plants in the world. In a monumental decision, the region has recently decided to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a coalition of countries, states, and big businesses working to transition away from coal towards renewable energy.
Among its ranks in the PPCA are Canada, the UK, France, Italy, and 70 other national governments, as well as numerous US states including California, New York, and Washington. Chungnam is the first and only jurisdiction from Asia to join the alliance so far. Considering that Chungnam pumps out 24.7 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions – and uses about twice as much coal power as the whole of Canada – the decision is a pretty big deal.
The move was officially pledged on Tuesday, October 2 by the Governor of Chungnam, Seung-Jo Yang, at an announcement held in Buyeo, South Korea, attended by IFLScience. Building on the work of previous governments, the signed declaration pledged to convert 14 of Chungnam power plants into environmentally-friendly power plants by 2026. By 2050, they are aiming to have zero coal-fired power plants in the region.
“Today, Chungnam is no longer a coal capital,” Jennifer Lee Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace, said in a speech at the conference.
“The declaration by Chungnam is all the more meaningful because it is the first of any kind not only in Korea, but across Asia as a whole.”
Beyond the mountains of carbon emissions produced by the area’s coal plants, serious concerns have been raised about the health of the people living nearby and the local environment. The political decision to transition towards clean energy in Chungnam was, in no small part, first pushed by the local people living within the shadows of the province's monolithic coal-fired power plants.
Many of the residents living near the Dangjin coal-fire plant – one of the largest coal power stations in the world – have used grassroots activism to curb the power plant’s expansion with some surprising success. Over 60 percent of the energy produced in Dangjin is consumed by the Seoul metropolitan area, some 75 kilometers (46 miles) away, however, the locals take the brunt of the coal plant’s presence.
“Everything is black from the coal,” one elderly resident told IFLScience. “Our rice paddies, our fields, our produce.”
“We’ve got so many cancer patients in our village,” said another resident. “We’ve had people develop skin rashes, others have pain in their eyes.”
“There are only 400 people living here, but 25 out of 400 have developed cancer,” he added. “That’s way above the national average.”
Last year, the people of Chungnam took part in a survey where the majority of respondents reported a serious concern about the damage caused by the local power stations. As such, they demanded the area transition away from coal, even if it does mean a short-term increase in their energy bills.
Now Chungnam has got the ball rolling with their decision to join the PPCA, there are high hopes they could spark similar movements across South Korea, Asia, and beyond.