Paris might have grabbed the headlines this year, but let’s not forget some other corners of the world, where environmentalists threw down the gauntlet and battled the coal industry in a fight for the future.
In a new annual report from the Sierra Club, the group highlights some of the critical on-the-ground actions of 2015 that kept more coal in the ground, including in Australia, Chile, Kenya, Myanmar, and elsewhere. The group, whose Beyond Coal campaign celebrated the 200th closing of a coal plant in the United States this year, also points out that a number of financial institutions pulled support for coal development.
“The space where we’ve been the most successful internationally is coal finance,” John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of international climate campaigns, told ThinkProgress. In fact, in the last year, the divestment movement has grown 50-fold, according to analysis released earlier this fall.
“It used to be the case that when we talked about climate change we were very careful in how we talked about coal because there was a view that the coal industry was so strong there needed to be a path forward,” Coequyt said. “There is a growing sign that that is just not the case.”
But the actions of civil society have also proved invaluable.
“We often find ourselves in this unusual position of trying to explain to people that this isn’t just about economics. People matter, and they particularly matter when you try to build something in their community that will impact them directly. That’s true in the United States and that’s true in every country in the world,” Coequyt said.
“The more that we’ve been engaged… the more we find these incredible advocates who are fighting coal sometimes at great risk to their lives.”
Here are seven fights the Sierra Club highlights in “Move Beyond Coal: The global movement in 2015.”
1. Protecting the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a ‘fossil fuel superhighway’
CREDIT: Jeff Tan/Courtesy Sierra Club
When an Indian coal company proposed building a giant open-pit coal mine in northwestern Australia, with plans to expand the shipping terminal at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, environmentalists moved quickly. Protesters targeted both the Indian coal company, Adani, and its financier, Australia’s Commonwealth Bank, to good effect — in some cases, even shutting down branches of the bank, when customers closed their accounts en mass in May. So far, 14 international banks have publicly pledged not to finance the project, while Adani has lost a court case over the federal approval of the project and dismissed its engineering team. Still, the company recently won an Australian court decision allowing the project to move forward, so the battle will continue.
2. Stopping a coal plant in the world’s largest mangrove forest, with a little unfortunate help from an oil spill
CREDIT: AP Photo/ Khairul Alam
When a ship sank in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans in November 2014, spilling more than 300,000 liters of oil into the largest mangrove forest in the world, it might have inadvertently slowed development of the country’s largest proposed coal plant. “The alarms are sounding and people are calling on the government to save the Sundarbans,” the report states. As we know, coal waste is highly toxic — to people as well as plants and animals — and the risk to the mangroves seems too great. With this project, too, financial backers have started breaking ties with the developers.
3. Keeping Patagonia beautiful
CREDIT: Francisco Campo-Lopez
In 2012, the largest open pit mine in Chile began operation, despite opposition from the country’s people, who launched Alerta Isla Riesco, a nonprofit aimed at protecting Patagonia. The group has taken the coal project to court, and amid falling coal prices, the project is becoming less and less viable. This year, the government rejected an application to use blasting as a way to extract more and spend less. This is another battle to watch in the coming year.
4. Fighting a coal plant among the renewables
CREDIT: TOM GILKS COURTESY DAN KLINCK/SIERRA CLUB
Kenya gets nearly two-thirds of its energy from renewable resources, including hydro. But a massive, $2 billion coal plant is in the works, threatening to set the country back, not forward. “It will be built, according to the robust assertions by proponents, by Chinese contractors to so-called ‘American clean coal standards’ — standards that do not exist,” the report notes. Organizers in Kenya are counting on the “global backlash” against coal to help snuff out this project before it gets started.
5. Using a new right to protest coal
CREDIT: Hong Sar Ramonya
Just a few short years after the military junta gave up complete control of Myanmar and began to allow limited elections and protests, thousands of people in the Southeast Asian nation stood up to a proposed coal plant — despite the overwhelming need for electricity. Representatives from the coal company have reportedly lied to and misled the public, and the government has continued to move the project forward. Yet villagers in southeastern Myanmar continue to stand strong against the coal plant, even facing arrest.
6. Gaining momentum in Thailand
CREDIT: ASTV Manager
In neighboring Thailand, the anti-coal movement is well underway. The people who live on the stunning Andaman island of Krabi (near where The Beach was filmed), successfully stopped a coal plant project four years ago. When the government, now under military control, restarted the bidding process this year, Save the Andaman acted. Two members staged a two-week hunger strike, which ended with the prime minister putting the project on hold again. The fight is far from over, but more and more civic groups are joining Thailand’s anti-coal movement.
7. Celebrating victory at home
As mentioned above, 2015 saw the closing of the 200th U.S. coal plant since 2010 — nearly 40 percent of the country’s total. This development has made the United States one of the leading industrialized nations in carbon emission reductions — which will only increase as it continues to transition to cleaner energy sources.
CREDIT: Sierra Club