CILEGON: Smokestacks belch noxious fumes into the air from a massive coal-fired power plant on the Indonesian coast, a stark illustration of Asia's addiction to the fossil fuel, which is threatening climate targets.
Asia-Pacific accounts for about three-quarters of global coal consumption — even as the region struggles with the environmental and public health impacts of global warming, from deadly levels of air pollution in India to extreme heat waves and wildfires in Australia.
Hopes for a cleaner future have been fired by pledges from top coal consumer China and other countries to go carbon-neutral but much of the region is making a painfully slow transition to renewable sources.
"We are moving much slower than the impact of climate change. We are running out of time," warned Tata Mustasya, a Greenpeace energy campaigner in Indonesia.
Change is hard in one of the last bastions of the dirtiest fossil fuel, however — five Asian countries are responsible for 80 percent of new coal power stations planned worldwide, according to a report from Carbon Tracker.
Commitments that have been made are too weak, analysts say, with promises to halt construction of plants and tighten overseas funding from key financing countries often not covering projects already planned.
And critics say that rich nations are not providing enough help — in terms of financing or technical know-how — to help poorer countries make the transition.
The challenge is illustrated by the enormous Suralaya coal plant on Indonesia's Java island, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, which can power about 14 million homes a year.
Indonesia has committed to be carbon-neutral by 2060 and to stop building new coal-fired plants from 2023, but despite this — the facility is undergoing a $3.5-billion expansion that will boost its capacity.
Burning coal is responsible for a massive chunk of carbon dioxide emissions, making it a major threat to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate deal.
But beyond its contribution to global warming, it also exacts a heavy toll on local communities.
At a village of red-roofed houses in the shadow of the Suralaya plant, coal dust often builds up on rooftops and residents complain of poor health.
"Problems reported in the area include coughing and breathing difficulties," said Misnan Arullah, from nongovernmental organization (NGO) Suralaya Care Forum, which campaigns on behalf of those affected by pollution.
"People complain of irritation to their eyes when they are out working in the fields."
Resident Edi Suriana said his sister-in-law, who used to run a stall on a beach close to where ash from the plant was dumped, died in 2010 after developing lung problems.
"She was exposed to coal dust when she was working at her stall," he told Agence France-Presse. "The shop was around 20 to 50 meters from the place where they dumped ash."
Medics were unable to draw a firm conclusion on her cause of death, but Suriana said the family believes it was due to the pollution.
And local fisherman Suwiro blamed the plant for a dramatic fall in the size and quality of his catches over the years.
"I used to be able to catch 100 kilograms of fish every time I went out to sea," said the 60-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.