Grassroots Movements Driving Back Coal Worldwide

by Gordon Scott, via the Sierra Club

The global grassroots movement against dirty, polluting coal-fired power has added another continent to the ranks of those finally moving away from the carbon-intensive fuel source: Australia. This July, the government of Australia announced that it is cancelling an A$100 million grant to Australian conglomerate HRL for a 400-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Victoria.  This is likely to be the death blow to what many believe is the last coal plant planned for Australia.

The government’s announcement marked the culmination of over half-a-decade of grassroots opposition to the project.  Led by Greenpeace International, as well as Australian environmental groups Quit Coal and Environment Victoria, activists staged protests, sit-ins of government offices, direct actions at the proposed project site, and legal challenges. The withdrawal of public funding for the HRL plant — thought to be Australia’s last major coal plant project — likely means the end of new coal plant construction in the country, as the upside-down economic model for coal-fired power has clearly been proven unviable.

On the heels of this victory, a new report shows that coal-fired generation in Australia fell by 10% in July of 2012 as compared to the same month the previous year. While lower energy consumption in the country due to the economic recession has some part to play in Australia’s July coal decrease, it cannot account for the whole gap. Analysts link the shift away from coal to a combination of decreased energy demand, the rising price of coal due in part to Australia’s new carbon tax, and increasing competitiveness of alternative fuel sources such as natural gas and renewables.

The defeat of the HRL plant and decrease in coal consumption in July, coupled with continually-increasing coal prices which are going nowhere but up for the foreseeable future, suggests that the move away from coal may become a long-term trend in Australia’s energy distribution.This news out of Australia marks another in a series of victories for grassroots anti-coal campaigners around the globe. The success of activists fighting the coal industry in the U.S. has been well-documented: coordinated grassroots campaigns against coal-fired power plants across the country have resulted in the retirement or cancellation of hundreds of existing and proposed coal plants with more retirements projected.

Similar campaigns have been successful across the European Union, where coal consumption has decreased by nearly 50% over the past two decades.  The recent SudWestStrom case out of Germany is representative of many battles throughout the EU: a hotly contested €3.2 billion, 1.8-gigawatt coal-fired power station, already beleaguered by economic concerns, was scrapped when it failed to obtain government clearance in the face of public opposition.  The EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050 calls for the complete elimination of coal in the coming decades, with much of that generation replaced by renewable energy. The decline of the coal industry in developed countries in the last decade has shifted the battle to developing economies, triggering a global Amazing Race of sorts with King Coal dashing around the world seeking ever-wider and more desperately for any last-remaining markets in which to push its polluting product. The result has been an upsurge in coal exports on the international market and proposals for massive coal-fired power development in emerging countries like India and China.

But the Australian case is a prime example of the story that is being repeated around the globe: everywhere King Coal rears its ugly head, local communities and grassroots movements are cropping up to drive back the beast — and they’re winning. From China to India to Bangladesh, Burma, Colombia, Kosovo, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and elsewhere, coal projects are coming up against surprisingly well-organized and vehement public opposition, facing strikes, 10,000-person protests, even kayak-blockades of coal ports.

Thanks to this strong and increasingly-coordinated network of anti-coal activists worldwide, fully half the world’s continents are now on a path toward reducing coal consumption and the corresponding carbon emissions. With escalating campaigns in developing countries, it is becoming more and more difficult for the coal industry to maintain its foothold, bringing the inevitable global demise of coal ever closer.

Gordon Scott is with the Sierra Club’s International Program. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club’s Compass blog and was reprinted with permission.


9 Responses to Grassroots Movements Driving Back Coal Worldwide

  1. J.C. says:

    Tipping Point Update

    I would first like to thank those whose tireless efforts have brought about the awareness of climate change to an ever broadening audience. Along with the 2012 weather records, an up tick in public interest has become almost palatable. I therefore have little time to concern myself with the deniers of this subject. Although amazed by their ability and energy wasted clinging onto such ever-evolving false narratives, their ignorance seems to proclaim all species survival is solely dependent upon ones ability to stick to a script.
    If only it were so.
    More often than not the word awareness conjures an uplifting feeling. More akin to getting the question right on an exam, remembering an umbrella at the last moment, slowing down before a cop’s radar finds you in a hurry. This time it’s different because of the numbers. http://
    It’s a somber awareness which can challenge ones current definitions of hope, resilience, and future. But as this awareness flourishes, where it’s allowed, you can get the feeling more awareness could well equate to more readiness for change. It’s still however comes down to time. Do we have the time to recognize the reality of our connectedness to one another. Not just our neighbors, but those faceless souls whose temperatures were 10 degrees warmer than normal for months on end, as opposed to 10 degrees cooler. Not just our friends and family, but our enemies as well, both foreign and domestic. With such ridiculous customs and patronage to a world long since gone. What’s to stop anyone from discovering the lesser disturbed part of the world, overrunning the resources and destabilizing yet another eco-system? Combine this years drought map and the predictions of “more of the same” for ten or fifteen years, and do your best to avoid seeing any climate migration occurring by two legged mammals. It’s a somber awareness rarely adequately addressed by our politicians, unless found walking their dog out at Cherry Point, or having the audacity to utter the words “climate change” in a 2011 public forum to the jeers of the inane, or creating a lower carbon footprint for the city of subdued excitement. It’s a somber awareness leading folks to embrace and be embraced by the Transition movement, the Occupy movement, and the eyes of a child who only knows of hope. The time for resolve is here, and the need is evident throughout. In our thinking, whether conscious or not. In the fiber of our being, both individually and collectively. Awareness becomes honored. Please join us August 31st at 5:00pm beginning at the Federal Building. Let’s march together for the world we will give to our children.

    Stop the Coal Port! Rally/March

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    This is good news, but the Australian people (and we Americans) need to stop massive mining and exports of coal to Asia. Coal pollution is an international problem, and only global carbon taxes will stop it.

    This makes the right wing crazy, of course: “global” and “taxes” are their two most despised words. That means that the coal/oil companies must be confronted and defeated, because our cruising along while they continue to buy our government is the biggest mistake that America has ever made.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    Coal is an ugly killer when we mine it and burn it.

    Coal is beautiful when we leave it in the ground where it keeps the story of millions of years of fossil life.

    Let’s leave coal in the ground where it belongs. My thanks go to all those who work and fight for clean energy.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    Just remind our conservative friends that when we allow China to burn coal freely we are giving them a subsidy. It is economics 102. Externalities are inefficient and bad.

    They are allowing China to pollute and endanger us. They are subsidizing China to pollute and endanger us. Is this what conservatives really want?

  5. Gillian King says:

    The recent “Laggard to Leader” report by Australian climate and energy thinktank, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) outlines the case for Australia to put a moratorium on new coal and gas developments.

    BZE has a good track record with delivering ambitious reports. Their 2010 “Stationary Energy Plan” outined how Australia could transform its electricity sector to 100% renewables over 10 years, and this has sparked the government to commission its own plan.

    More information (and report download) here:

  6. rjs says:

    dont fool yourself: According to the latest BP Statistical Review, world coal consumption grew 5.4 percent in 2011 and world coal production grew by 6.1 percent

  7. Mike says:

    I agree that we must stop burning coal, the sooner the better. But we must also provide alternative jobs for the people who mine and process coal. If we ignore those workers, we will only create a new set of enemies who will fight our efforts.

  8. Simon Butler says:

    A very important climate campaign in Australia is Repower Port Augusta – which is campaigning to replace two aging coal-fired power stations in South Australia with concentrated solar thermal power plants and wind.

    However, there is a very long way to go in this coal-addicted country. Australia plans to double its coal exports by 2020 & its already the world’s number 1 exporter. The HRL decision was a big victory lead by grassroots campaigners, but Australia’s carbon price scheme (it came in last month and is due to become a fully fledged cap & trade scheme by 2015) deserves little credit. The emissions cuts planned under the scheme (5% of 2000 levels by 2020) will be met by international offsets, not domestic cuts. Australia emissions will rise under the plan for decades.

  9. RobS says:

    This is a bittersweet victory, whilst it is excellent that new coal power has been prevented it must be remembered that 25% of Victorias power comes from Hazelwood Power station, which at 1.58 tonnesCO2/Mwh is the OECDs most carbon intensive power station, it is nothing short of a disgrace how old and outdated thus facility is. The new HRL plant produces ~ 0.8 tonnesCO2/MWh, and was approve don the basis that an equal or greater amount of existing coal capacity was retired, there is a good chance had it gone ahead it would have replaced Hazelwood. Whilst I would rather renewables, anything to get Hazelwood’s 1600Mw decommissioned even if it meant a smaller more efficient coal plant would be better then the status quo.