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Quit coal, because you can't cheat the atmosphere

Feature story - 3 December, 2008
The Quit Coal tour reached Denmark this morning, as activists in inflatable boats, supported by the Rainbow Warrior, moved into the coal terminal of the Enstedværket power plant in Aabenraa, Denmark. A team of ten activists is occupying a crane used for unloading coal,and have settled in for the night, while waterborne activists are protesting Denmark’s coal-powered energy policy.

Quit Coal. Ten Greenpeace activists prevent the unloading of coal from the coal ship Hanjin Imabari.

A short voyage away on the other side of the Baltic Sea another team of activists is still occupying the chimney of Pątnów power plant in Poland. You can read updates live from the smokestack at our Climate Rescue Weblog.

Update: After a night spent on the crane a team of activists has now blocked the conveyor belts used to deliver coal from the terminal to the power plant, further disrupting operations at the coal terminal.

We've taken these actions because the world is heading toward runaway climate change and the grip exerted by the coal industry on our politicians is making it impossible for us to turn back. Denmark has no coal mines of its own, yet chooses to generate 50 percent of its electricity by burning imported coal.  Poland generates 93 percent of its electricity from coal, an addiction that is devastating its landscape, environment and climate policy.

At present the collected nations of the European Union are squabbling over the small print in their 'climate package', a collection of laws intended to make sure Europe cuts its emissions. A deal is due in the next few days, but a block of coal states led by Poland and Italy is fighting hard to weaken the deal. Other countries are asking to buy their way out of trouble by protecting forests in the developing world instead of taking responsibility for their own emissions.

The problem is you can't cheat the atmosphere. We need to cut emissions in Europe and end deforestation; it's not an either or question. The problem is too serious for half measures. If Europe can't get its act together and agree a strong climate package the consequences will be bad, and they'll start immediately.

Right now, in Poland, delegations from 190 countries are working to negotiate the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol. They're all looking to the Europeans to take a lead on cutting emissions. A strong Europe could convince the developing world that rich countries are serious about making cuts and bring nations like China and India into the deal. A strong Europe could convince the lame duck delegates representing the last days of Bush's presidency to get out of the way and accept that change really has come to America. But if Europe is weak any prospect of a meaningful deal could fall apart.

The negotiations taking place in Poland are scheduled to run for another year and will finish in Copenhagen in 2009. They started a year ago in Bali and, unfortunately, progress to date has been limited to say the least. By the end of this negotiating session delegates must, as a bare minimum:

Put a deal on the table - we're half way through this process and there is no text to even start negotiating over. That's not acceptable.

Accept the science - the deal needs to include goals that take the problem seriously. That means worldwide cuts of at least 85 percent by 2050, and developed countries agreeing cuts at the top end of the suggested 25-40 percent range.

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