On August 29, citing health and environmental concerns, Indonesian plaintiffs filed a petition to Seoul’s district court for an injunction against Korean public banks to stop financing a proposed 2,000-megawatt (MW) coal power expansion.
The Jawa Units 9 and 10 are coal-fired power plant units planned to be built near Jakarta. These units are slated to be constructed by Doosan Heavy with financing from Korea Development Bank (KDB), Korea Export-Import Bank (KEXIM), and Korea Trade Insurance Corporation (K-SURE). Korea Electric Power Corporation and Korea Midland Power are both reviewing to join the project. Singaporean bank DBS is the project’s financial advisor.
Plaintiffs criticised the Korean government for providing massive public funds through its government-controlled financial institutions to foreign coal projects, while domestically phasing out coal in order to protect its people. The plaintiffs also explained that the construction of coal- fired power plants infringes their constitutional right to a healthy life.
One of the plaintiffs, Wahyudin (28), whose family lives near the plant site said, “There is so much less fish around the power plant and there is a long line at the hospital because people have skin and respiratory diseases. We really need to stop these new power plants.”
The plaintiffs are not the only ones suffering from coal-fired power plants. Residents of Jakarta brought a lawsuit against the government authorities in July this year, arguing responsibility for the declining air quality.
In April 2017, Bandung District Court actually rescinded the environmental permit for Cirebon 2 coal-fired power plant in the lawsuit brought by local residents. The recent petition would be the first case in which local residents of a foreign coal- fired power plant site have taken legal action against public institutions in the Korean court.
Another nearby resident, Joko Suralaya (alias, 27), implored, “The new coal power plant will cause great harm to our health. My father died from brain cancer last year, and air pollution had much to do with his illness. I would never want another tragedy. I just want my 6-month- old child to grow up in a better environment,” in his petition letter to the Court.
It is not just Indonesian residents in the lawsuit, however. Korean citizens, concerned with the harm to health and environment caused by foreign coal projects built with tax-payer money, also joined the plaintiffs.
Sunja Hwang (57), a Korean plaintiff, said “I want my tax money to be spent right. Our tax money should not be used for threatening the lives of people in other countries. The coal industry is going down anyway. It would be a terrible waste to invest in something that will definitely result in loss.”
The KRW 1.6 trillion construction contract for the new 2,000MW plants was signed in March 2019 between IRT, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s state-owned power company, and Doosan Heavy Industries. Korean public financial institutions participated in the project by issuing letters of intent for loans and export credits. As Doosan Heavy Industries plans to begin construction later this year and complete it by April 2024, billions of dollars in loans are expected to be executed by the end of the year.
However, environmental harm caused by coal-fired power plants has caused serious public concern in Indonesia. 22 coal-fired power plants are currently in operation in the Jakarta region, the most populated area in Indonesia, with 7 more plants planned to be added.
The local residents are taking a direct hit from the rapid increase of coal-fired power plants. Salt harvest, which is the largest source of income for the locals, has declined along with income from agriculture and fisheries. Local residents are also suffering from increased respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
Because Korean public financial institutions have already invested in coal-fired power plants currently operating in Indonesia, such as Cirebon 1, 2 and Kalsel, Korea is not free from its responsibility for the current situation.
A press conference was also held in Indonesia by concerned citizens fighting against coal- fired power plant at the same time as the court filing. They pointed out that additional coal- fired power plants will only worsen the significant harm caused by Korean investment in Indonesian coal power and demanded the Korean government to act responsibly.
The plaintiffs and the concerned citizens, along with environmental organizations declared that they will continue to organise campaigns against the Korean public financial institutions and corporations for reckless investment in coal power.
Criticism against Korea’s coal power “exports” is not limited to Indonesia. Korea is one of the top 3 investors in coal-fired power in the world and has built coal-fired power plants in many nations in the Southeast Asian region. The total funding provided to foreign coal projects by the Korea Export-Import Bank and Korea Trade Insurance Corporation in the past 10 years amounts to a whopping KRW 11.3 trillion. Many criticize such investments go directly against the target of 1.5-degree temperature increase agreed on by the international community.
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