TODAY’S STUDY: THE FIGHT TO STOP COAL THIS YEAR
Move Beyond Coal; The Global Movement in 2013
December 2013 (Sierra Club)
As the coal industry attempts to expand its presence in the world’s largest and fastest-developing economies, one truth has emerged: The tide is turning against coal expansion. In 2013, mounting concern over the economic and environmental risks posed by coal swept through large, publicly funded international financial institutions. In the United States, President Barack Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan, which included an end to financing for new coal plants overseas with public funds, effectively ending the coal binge at U.S. agencies, such as the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
On the heels of this announcement, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank announced their own restrictions to funding coal plants, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is poised to follow. This dramatic shift is paving new roads for energy efficiency and renewable energy in global markets.
This shift was propelled by mounting concerns and protests from local communities around the world. After years of growing opposition across the globe against the coal industry, the industry’s violations on human health, safety, and the environment have generated a groundswell of protest. This opposition is also a direct reaction to the failure of the coal industry to follow through on its central promise: cheap power to fuel development. Instead, local residents sacrifice their health, livelihoods, and land for power they rarely receive.
As communities rise up in protest, the results have been staggering. All around the world, people are standing up, fighting back, and winning. This report chronicles their stories and their victories. It gives hope to the calls for a coal-free future that supports clean air, clean water, and sustainable development for all.
Consuming half of the world’s coal with its nearly 3,000 coal-fired power plants, China really is the kingdom of coal. For decades, it has been assumed that China’s coal consumption will continue to grow, with no end in sight. But with catastrophic air pollution making life miserable for residents, things are starting to change, fast.
The cancellation of a coal-fired power project in the city of Shenzhen was the first sign that coal’s future in China was uncertain. On the coast of the South China Sea in Guangdong Province, the proposed 2,000 megawatt project was a mere 50 kilometers from the urban cores of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, two megacities with populations of 10 and 7 million, respectively.
The proposal to build new, huge coal-fired plants in one of China’s most economically advanced areas immediately hit a nerve with local residents. Greenpeace East Asia estimated that the new power plants would cause 1,700 premature deaths over their operating lives. With air pollution concerns as their rallying cry, locals made history by making the Shenzhen project the first coal plant in China that was cancelled because of environmental concerns…
Bulga vs. The Giant
In the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, there’s a backlash brewing against the open-cut coal mining that has scarred the landscape, emptied villages, and put multi-million dollar winemaking, tourism, and thoroughbred-breeding industries under threat. In 2013, a court battle pitted the residents of the small village of Bulga, home to about 400 people, against the Warkworth mine, owned by Rio Tinto. The court battle has captured the story of the Hunter Valley, and how communities are finally starting to win the fight against coal.
Rio Tinto had secured approval from the New South Wales Government to expand the existing Warkworth mine, increasing production by 18 million tons of coal per year and bringing the mine closer to the village of Bulga. As part of the mine expansion, Rio planned to violate a prior agreement and remove a natural woodland buffer that had been set aside to be protected—one of the conditions of the mine’s original approval 10 years ago. Home to endangered ecological communities, the woodland buffer protects biodiversity and shields the town against the open-cut pits, just 6 kilometers away…
Home to rich biodiversity, including the planet’s largest mangrove forest, the endangered royal Bengal tigers, and nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphins, the Sundarbans of Bangladesh was a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and remains a UNESCO World Heritage site. More importantly, the forest is the first and last line of defense against rising sea levels, and it saved thousands of lives when cyclones Aila and Sidr slammed into the country in 2009 and 2007, respectively. More than 500,000 local inhabitants rely on the forest for their livelihoods, and they refuse to stand by while their way of life is under attack.
After marching nearly 250 miles in just five days, 20,000 protesters opposed to the construction of a coal-fired power plant in the Sundarbans reached Dighraj, a remote area in the southwest of Bangladesh.
“You look tired,” an old lady in a makeshift tea stall told Mowdud Rahman, an activist and member of Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly. “Please sit here for a while and have a cup of tea.”
Rahman recounted: “I have read many books and articles. I have attended many seminars and discussions. But I was unable to fully appreciate the significance of the forest to Bangladesh until this woman, with so much at stake, told me, ‘we are with you … we shall protect this forest at any cost.’ Our very survival is tied to this forest.” …
In mid-2012, German and Swiss anti-coal activists celebrated the end of the largest new hard coal power plant project in Germany. The 1.8-gigawatt, 3.2 billion-euro project in Brunsbuettel, in northern Germany, was defeated. Its story is an inspiration for coal campaigners across the European Union.
Challenging The Energiewende
The project was planned by a consortium of more than 60 German and Swiss municipal energy suppliers. The consortium wanted to use the project to gain a better foothold in the German energy sector, which is monopolized by four big utilities. This meant a huge challenge for activists, as they had to fight a battle on multiple fronts and take pains not to antagonize municipalities, many of which are important allies in the Energiewende (Germany’s renewable energy revolution). Despite these concerns, it was important to send an unmistakable message that municipal investments in new coal would be fought to the bitter end…
Batang Community Versus A Mammoth Dirty COAL Power Plant
Indonesia is the world’s largest thermal coal exporter. In 2012, Indonesian coal production reached 386 million tons, 85 percent of which was exported to just a few countries in Asia. This mammoth mining and export industry exacts a significant toll on the country’s pristine forests and its communities. All across the country, its expansion threatens Indonesians’ way of life.
But it’s not just exports that threaten local residents. Indonesia relies heavily on dirty and outdated coal for its electricity production, and the government is on its way to locking in a dark, dangerous energy future for the nation. There are plans to build 117 new coal power plants across the country—this in addition to the existing 42 coal-fired power plants that are already polluting and destroying the livelihood and health of nearby communities. This is the story of one community that stood up, fought back, and is winning…
Matanuska Valley, Alaska
Alaska is known for its pristine wilderness, indigenous cultures, abundant wildlife, and prolific salmon streams. But it also holds a little-known secret: A staggering 5.5 trillion tons of coal, one eighth of all of the coal on earth, lies under its surface. With eight new coal mining projects in the state, the coal industry has Alaska in its sights – and the global climate would be imperiled if these projects became a reality. Beyond opening the floodgates to releasing massive amounts of untapped carbon into the atmosphere, these proposed coal mines would have devastating consequences on the lands, water, and people of Alaska. The coal industry’s proposals include drastic plans such as mining directly through 11 miles of wild salmon streams and strip-mining within a quarter – mile of a residential neighborhood. Locals near the proposed coal mines knew this threat had to be stopped…
Vidarbha, Maharashtra, India
The Indian state of Maharashtra has two very different halves. The western side is comparatively well-off, home to Bollywood stars and billionaires in hectic Mumbai, as well as many rich sugarcane farmers in the lush, well-irrigated fields that surround the megacity. The situation in Vidarbha, the eastern region of Maharashtra, is very different.
Years of neglect by the state government have left the farmers there stuck in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty. Yearly crop failure, exacerbated by a changing monsoon, pushes many of these farmers to breaking point, and every summer there is a spate of suicides. This year, nearly 700 farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha. Most do so by consuming their own pesticides.
In this situation, irrigation can literally be a lifeline. Several big dams built in Vidarbha brought hardship and were decidedly a mixed blessing, as they flooded valleys and displaced villages in their oceanic backwaters, but at least they provided valuable irrigation. One of them, the Upper Wardha dam, irrigated 80,250 hectares of farmland through a canal network branching out from either side.
Farmers in the dam’s command area could grow a second or even third crop of cotton each year, and their situation improved accordingly. Dam water not being used for irrigation was mostly piped to villages to be used as drinking water. Demand was high, and by 2008, the reserves of the Upper Wardha dam were already over-allocated.
These are just a few of the grassroots struggles to stop dangerous coal projects currently underway from Thailand to Chile, Romania to South Africa. Often local communities face violence and intimidation at the hands of corporations or government officials seeking to benefit from the destruction. But with their land, air, and water at stake, communities are not backing down. They are demanding control of their futures and the clean energy alternatives that can bring electricity today, without deadly pollution or costly grid extensions that may never come. More important, though, they are winning, and in doing so, they are changing not only their own futures, but all our futures.
NO QUICK NEWS TODAY