Use of coal in Egypt raises controversy over environmental commitment
Cement factory - YOUM7 (Archive)

CAIRO: There is a state of controversy over the use of coal in Egypt’s cement factories that raised questions over the future of Egypt’s environment in the light of the expected negative repercussions of climate change.

Cement factories will build ports to receive imported coal and import cars to transport coal to factories under European environmental standards that the Ministry of Environment will put in the upcoming period.

Minister of Environment Laila Iskander said on Wednesday that using coal in factories is dangerous to the economy, tourism in Egypt, and the people’s health.

She said that studies conducted by the ministry on the effects of using coal in industry aroused many concerns. Iskander said the current environment law is weak and the ministry is making a new strong law to deter cement companies that violate the law.

She disclosed that there are five cement factories that violate the law; their furnaces were changed to work with coal. She demanded using rice straw and garbage to generate energy in cement factories.

The minister added that Egypt has multinational cement factories and they all violate environment law and some ministers do not know this. She said that these factories should respect Egyptian law like they respect their countries’ law.

Minister of Environment participated in the ministerial meeting headed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab to discuss the rise in cement prices in Egyptian market, according to the website of Ministry of Environment.

Environmental experts warned of such a step, describing it as turning back, while others stressed the need to use coal to push forward the economic situation.

Adviser of Egypt’s Ministry of Environment for Climate Change Hussein Abaza said the government should support and protect the environment. He said the Ministry of Environment could not bear the responsibility alone, since it is not an executive ministry; it works to launch initiatives to protect the environment.

“The attempts adopted by the cement factories to use the coal strongly contradicts with environmental standards. Such an idea contradicts with the principles of sustainable development adopted by the new constitution,” Abaza told The Cairo Post on Wednesday. “The Egyptian government did not turn to use the coal in the cement industry during former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It is not reasonable to adopt this approach after the Egyptian January 25 Revolution.”

He called on civil society organizations to launch campaigns to cooperate with the ministry to protect their environment.

Regarding the economic situation, member of Federation of Industries Omar Mehana stressed the need to use coal to push forward the building sector in Egypt. He said the cement factories operate only 50 percent of their capacity during the recent years. He blamed the economic policy adopted during Mubarak’s regime for the notable decline in the industry and the soaring prices of cement.

“We do not have any differences with the Ministry of Environment, while the problem is the energy shortage in Egypt,” Mehana told The Cairo Post on Wednesday. “The economic position would witness notable improvement if the government supported the building and construction sector.”

Mehana told Youm7 the Cabinet approved of using European energy mix and applying its accompanying European standards because there is a shortage in natural gas. He said Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab ordered Minister of Environment Laila Iskander to study and review the European energy mix standards of use within two weeks. He said that Mahlab ordered to shut down factories that violated the standards.

Mehana said the European energy mix consists of 81 percent coal, 10 percent waste, and 9 percent of conventional sources such as gas and fuel oil. He said that 24 cement companies, eight among them are international companies. In spite of the strict environmental standards in these countries, they use coal in 81 percent of their industry.

The economic problems were the main factor of controversy between the developed and developing countries over the environmental regulations to avoid carbon emissions. The developing countries stressed that climate change was a result of sky-high economic ambitions adopted by the developed nations, regardless of the needs of the other countries so they should bear the responsibility of the new environmental threat alone.

Abaza said a large number of developing and emerging countries turned to use renewable energy and managed to achieve notable growth. He said that Saudi Arabia and China depended on the solar energy recently and they achieved unprecedented economic booms.

He said the use of coal in the cement industry does not leave any environmental effects except the increasing percentage of carbon dioxide. “The cement absorbs the coal impurities during the industrial process,” he said.

He refuted the calls for using renewable energy in the cement industry, saying that the furnace needs to reach temperatures of 1,600°C; neither solar energy nor wind energy could create enough energy to raise the furnace temperature that high.

Mehana said that allowing companies to import coal will save two billion cubic meters of gas and 850,000 tons of fuel oil in three years. These resources can be used in other industries or in supplying electricity station to avoid power cuts in the summer.

Environmental expert Ezzat Abdel-Hamid said the use of coal in the industry contradicts with the global trend since it is most damaging to the atmosphere. He said they could use cleaner fossil fuels, including natural gas, while turning to use cheaper sources to achieve more gains at the expense of the environment.

He told The Cairo Post that the government should find alternative sources for energy, stressing the need to turn to nuclear power by importing safe reactors to remove the fear of their negative repercussions. He raised the necessity of turning to use the renewable energy gradually in the upcoming period.

“The European Union is working with Egyptian authorities and Ministry of Environment to put standards for the European energy mix used in industry” EU Ambassador James Moran told Shorouq newspaper on Wednesday.

“I am always amazed when I fly over Cairo and look on buildings roofs and do not see solar panels. If you fly over Berlin, Frankfurt or any other European city, you will find many solar panels. This is strange because the sun in Egypt is stronger that in Europe” Moran added.

Additional reporting by Seleem Ali, Basma Mahmoud, Manal al-Esawy.

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