Millions of Acres of Forest Targeted for Coal Mines

A new report says that recognizing local land rights would help stop deforestation worldwide.

Open-pit brown coal mine, heavy mining machinery, and wind-power plants in Northwest Bohemia, Sokolov, Czech Republic. (Photo: Rudolf Vlcek/Getty Images)

Dec 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Proposed coal mines threaten more than 29.4 million acres of forest worldwide, according to a European conservation group.

If these projects become reality, the group warned on Thursday, the result will be an environmental “double whammy” of more climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from coal-fired power at the same time that the world’s carbon-storing forest cover is diminished.

“Global consumption of coal may be falling, its price plummeting, and major financial institutions divesting from it—but ‘the end of coal’ is far from nigh,” according to forest conservation nonprofit Fern, which operates offices in the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Fern’s report, released at the United Nations climate conference in Paris, compiled information on projects proposed by several of the world’s largest coal producers. Forest conservation is a major negotiating topic at the conference because woodlands are the world’s largest storehouses of carbon on land. Deforestation accounts for as much as 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions alone and about 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The group found that 3.2 million acres of forestland in Australia has been targeted for coal mining, “an area equal to 2.1 million football fields." In Indonesia, 21.3 million acres—representing more than 8 percent of the country’s forest cover—are threatened. Also at risk from coal mining are more than 618,000 acres in India, 131,000 acres in New Zealand, and more than 91,000 acres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

RELATED: The Boreal Is Burning

In the United States, according to Fern, more than half a million acres of forestland in the Appalachian region are threatened, while in Canada more than 2.7 million acres are at risk in British Columbia alone.

The group cautioned that “the amount of forest facing destruction so that coal can be extracted from beneath its surface” is probably much higher than estimated, in part because China—one of the world’s major producers and consumers of coal—does not make enough relevant information on its plans available to the public.

To save forests, Fern has called for greater global recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples and local forest communities, citing a World Bank report that found “forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people” worldwide.

Over the past 20 years, evidence has grown that “recognizing and strengthening local communities’ customary land tenure can prevent deforestation,” the group stated.

Fern has launched a website that maps the proposed coal mines and the forests they would destroy.