For a long time, efforts to stem the growth of global CO2 emissions and avert the impending climate chaos have been synonymous with complex international negotiations between governments.
The unwillingness of governments to commit to action has given those of us concerned about the future a reason for pessimism. However, a series of new recent victories might give reason to rethink what progress on climate looks like.
In Australia, the expansion of the world’s biggest coal export terminal in Newcastle has been delayed and looks likely to be shelved. The decision is due to lower than expected demand for Australia’s coal exports and concerted community action. Communities are taking action because they are not willing to put up with more coal trains and the toxic dust they spread.
The massive coal ports planned in the US Northwest seem to be hitting the same dead end. Coal demand is falling, partially because air pollution and other deadly impacts are forcing a re-evaluation of policies in importing countries and partially because renewable energy is booming.
The victory for the local movement in Newcastle came as our Rainbow Warrior is sailing along the coast in support of the communities taking a stand against planned monster coal terminals.
In Thailand, the country’s energy minister said yesterday that the proposed coal power plant in Krabi, one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations, should not be built. The announcement came on the heels of a Greenpeace climbing action and local community protests against the plan.
Another, even bigger coal power plant project was cancelled a week earlier in Poland, where Greenpeace and other organizations have been engaged in legal fights to keep the government from bending laws to give free CO2 emission permits to new coal.
In India, 36 coal mining projects were shelved as the government of India’s largest province, Maharashtra, announced new prices for land purchases for coal mines. Last year, Greenpeace teamed up with local communities in the region to defend forests and community lands against coal mining.
What if the turning point in the global fight to avert climate chaos is not signatures of presidents and prime ministers on paper, but a line drawn in the sand by local communities that are not willing to put up with the deadly fossil fuel industry anymore?
From China to the US and Thailand to Turkey, there are more and more people who no longer buy into the argument that economic development and security are only possible at the price of clean air, clean water and the health of ourselves and our children. At the same time, renewable energy is booming and it is becoming clear that economic wellbeing does not require environmental destruction.
There is already a precedent. While the US administration was dragging its heels at the end of the last decade, the grassroots anti-coal movement successfully fought more than a hundred new coal power plant projects, doing more for the climate in a few years than 20 years of climate negotiations among the world’s most powerful countries.
What I know for sure is that we at Greenpeace will continue to make life hard for the dirty energy industry that stands between us and a safe future climate. As the deadly impacts of coal become more and more apparent, these victories will undoubtedly keep rolling in.
Lauri Myllyvirta is an energy campaigner at Greenpeace International