Feds approve Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility

Cove point

Late Monday the Federal Energy Regulatrory Commission (FERC) approved the controversial Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Maryland. The Sierra Club and a large coalition of groups -- including Earthjustice, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper -- have been fighting this plan since its announcement because it means a massive expansion of natural gas fracking.

More than 40,000 people submitted comments opposing Cove Point.

"FERC's decision to allow LNG exports from Cove Point is fundamentally flawed because the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, and that means more climate pollution, more risk of contaminated groundwater, and more threats to the health of people who live near gas wells," said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign. "FERC should be standing up for the public good, not the interests of dirty polluters."

Once in full operation, Cove Point will also emit thousands of tons of dangerous air pollutants and millions of tons of greenhouse gases that will only add to increased climate disruption.

Beyond the increased fracking, the super-cooling process that turns fossil fuel vapor into LNG requires an immense amount of energy -- so much energy, in fact, that the LNG lifecycle is as dirty as coal. The industry wants to build enormous shipping terminals that would pave over fields, fill wetlands, and destroy estuaries.

As Deb noted about this Cove Point approval, FERC continues to bury its head in the sand and conclude that it is impossible to predict the effects related to the production of gas to be exported, or consumption of that gas once it is exported. This is despite the fact that even the Department of Energy agrees that if exports occur, they will induce additional gas production.

The Sierra Club and the coalition against Cove Point also believe that FERC has failed to procide for adequate public participation regarding this project. FERC must develop a full environmental impact statement that covers the entire effect of the project.

Some in Maryland are already planning a rally in response to the bad decision (6pm Tuesday, Sept 30, at 701 E. Pratt Street in Baltimore).

Stay tuned for more news on how we'll fight this decision. And stay involved - Cove Point isn't the only planned LNG export facility in the U.S.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

New Cases Show Risks of Corporate Empowerment in Trade Deals

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One result of neoliberalism, writes Mark Bittman in the New York Times, is that “some corporations are more powerful than governments.” This message was a theme of many of the signs and chants at the People’s Climate March, where more than 400,000 participants came together in New York City, many denouncing corporate greed at the expense of a sustainable planet. And nowhere is that power divergence more apparent than in free trade pacts, where a provision called “investor state dispute settlement” (ISDS) empowers corporations to sue governments over nearly any policy that a corporation alleges would reduce its expected future profits.

The Dominican Republic, for example, faces two new corporate challenges to its environmental policies. Instead of supporting the Dominican Republic’s right to implement environmental safeguards, the U.S. is pushing to expand these “investor” rights in new trade agreements currently under negotiation—the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the European Union.

Under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), Corona, a Florida-based construction materials company (not to be confused with the beer), has announced a case against the Dominican Republic for $100 million because the Dominican Republic denied Corona an environmental license to mine for construction materials after citing concerns about the proposed project’s risks to waterways. Separately, three U.S. investors are threatening to bring a case against the Dominican Republic for not allowing them to “extend” a resort—which already includes luxury homes, a restaurant with a rotating floor and tennis courts— into a neighboring national park. The coveted “extension” would allow the developers to construct a second restaurant, spa, and “world-class boutique hotel.

Continue reading "New Cases Show Risks of Corporate Empowerment in Trade Deals" »

Japan Draws Condemnation For Continued Overseas Coal Financing

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Photo courtesy of Greenpeace India

The world’s largest public financier of overseas coal-fired power plants is facing serious pressure to move beyond coal.

Earlier this month, four residents of the central Java district of Batang, Indonesia were in Tokyo to protest the Japanese government’s support for a proposed $4 billion coal-fired power plant slated to be built in Batang. Since it’s inception in 2011, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)-funded coal project has been subject to fierce local resistance. Residents refusing to sell their land have already delayed the start of construction for over two years, but, in turn, activists have faced harassment and arrests over their efforts to protect their land.

Yet, the community members refuse to give up their fight, concerned that pollution from the coal-fired power plant will negatively affect fertile agricultural land and fragile coastal fishing zones which support the livelihoods of many local villagers. Locals are also worried about the health effects of pollutants contaminating the area’s air and water.

The 2,000-megawatt plant is poised to be the largest coal-fired power plant in Southeast Asia at an estimated cost of 400 billion yen (U.S. $4 billion). Riodi and Taryun, two of the Batang natives who traveled to Japan, were delegated by local Japanese residents to meet with officials from JBIC.

“We want to express our refusal directly to the responsible parties: Japan’s Ministry of Finance and the key companies, Itochu and J Power,” said Riodi in Tokyo last Tuesday. “After fruitless attempts in Central Java, and in the capital Jakarta, we hope our journey to Japan can ensure the cancellation of the power plant construction in our villages”.

Thanks to their efforts, parliamentarians from two Japanese opposition parties -- Mizuho Fukushima, an ex-minister who lead the Social Democratic Party from 2003-2013, and Naoto Sakaguchi, director-general of the international department of the Restoration Party of Japan -- have lent their support to the Indonesian community representatives.

Securing opposition to this coal project in Japan will be a major victory considering JBIC is the world’s leading financier of coal and Japan has provided more international funding to coal than any other country. Clearly, getting the Japanese government out of the dirty coal business is no small task, but these activists are not alone.

A new norm amongst the international community has solidified over the past year: a swift and sweeping transition away from financing new coal-fired plants overseas by many OECD countries -- including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and other Nordic countries. Each of these countries have established strict restrictions for the support for overseas coal-fired power plants. In fact, just this week at the UN Climate Summit, the German government announced plans to offer its own restrictions for overseas coal financing.

In addition, these countries’ large international financial institutions (IFIs) -- like the World Bank Group -- have enacted similar coal financing policies.

However, it seems as though the World Bank -- which is still pondering its test case of these coal financing policies in Kosovo -- is actively defying its own coal ban by participating in this Japanese coal project. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) helped create the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund. This fund has provided a $33.9 billion guarantee for the Batang coal-fired power plant. Furthermore, the World Bank’s infrastructure project in Indonesia includes policies to subsidize and promote over 40 coal projects worldwide.

With the world’s nations committed to limiting climate disruption and keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, Japan and JBIC do not have the luxury of continued investment in burning or extracting dirty coal.

The health of our climate and our communities is at stake. It’s time for Japan to join the international community. It’s time to move beyond coal.

-- Rohan Bhatia, International Climate Program Intern

Tens of thousands celebrate National Drive Electric Week in 152 cities

Copenhagen cars

by Gina Coplon-Newfield and Zan Dubin-Scott

In 152 cities and 39 US states, more than 90,000 people attended events last week associated with the 2014 National Drive Electric Week. Getting people into plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to experience the fun, quiet, and clean air benefits of EVs first-hand was part of the point. Event organizers from San Diego alone reported 600 test rides, and Littleton, CO reported a respectable 200. All told from our city captains, we estimate that there were more than 5,500 test rides in plug-in cars at our events.

California Governor Jerry Brown celebrated National Drive Electric Week by signing a number of new EV programs into law. One measure sets a goal of one million plug-in vehicles on the road in California by the end of 2022, about a tenfold increase in the next eight years. The legislation directs the state Air Resources Board to draft a plan to meet that goal and make sure that disadvantaged communities can participate. The policies will also ensure that it's easier for EV drivers to install charging units in apartment building parking areas. "We face an existential challenge with the changes in our climate," Brown said about the EV programs and other environmental initiatives he announced on Sunday, timed to coincide with a United Nations climate summit. "The time to act is now. The place to look is California. We're not finished, but we sure are setting the pace."

NYC Gas SuxIn New York City on Sunday, an estimated 400,000 people took to the streets to demand serious action among world leaders to address climate change. As part of Drive Electric Week, our 'EV Bloc' participated in the People's Climate March with signs like "Don't Pollute on Your Commute."

Public officials nationwide came out in droves to test drive and promote plug-in cars last week. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington issued a Drive Electric Week proclamation for his state. There was a "wicked strong" showing at the Cranston, RI event: U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Mayor Allan Fung, and Rhonde Island Office of Energy Resources Commissioner Marion Gold all turned out to celebrate plug-in cars in the ocean state. In Juneau, Alaska, several mayors, Attorney General Michael Geraghty, and state representative Cathy Munoz gathered for test drives and promotion of new charging stations.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore was among many mayors who issued ‘drive electric' proclamations for their cities and towns. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said in his own proclamation, presented at UCLA, that EVs "reduce our dependence on foreign fuels, and support a healthy environment and economy."

Cupertino's celebration peaked when a judge with GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® pronounced a new record for most all-electric vehicles in a parade: 507. The fume-free procesion, cheered on by a crowd of a couple thousand, was organized by San Francisco BayLEAFs and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Electric Auto Association, an enduring granddaddy founded in 1967. Among parade EVs was the AC Propulsion tzero, upon which Tesla Motors based its Roadster, and Stella. With onboard solar panels, this low-slung, four-passenger car is said to produce twice as much energy as it uses in an average day. It won the 2013 World Solar Challenge, a competition that launched the storied EV1 and our era's EV resurgence. Stella was designed and built by students of the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Many other students participated in Drive Electric Week this year, thanks to our new Ambassador Schools initiative. Still in pilot phase, we expect to have more about this program next year, but the idea is to raise awareness of EVs among youth. In Murray, Utah, about 450 of young and old alike got to check out not only electric cars, but also electric motorcycles, bicycles, and lawn-mowers. Even Mike Lookinland, also known as Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch, showed up to talk about his love for EVs.
Wellesley people and cars

We at Plug In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association could not have put on National Drive Electric Week without the hundreds of volunteers and dozens of partner groups at the local level, including many Clean Cities Coalitions. We also appreciated the promotion from allied groups, such as the 11th Hour Project, which announced during Drive Electric Week several exciting newly funded EV grant projects. Our friends at Union of Concerned Scientists took the opportunity to issue new blog posts on the scientifically proven benefits of plug-in cars, including: How do EVs Compare with Gas-Powered Vehicles?  Better Every Year…; and How Clean are Electric Cars? A Life Cycle Assessment of Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

Most of the events were in the US, but gatherings took place in four other nations as well. Many thanks go to sponsors and other supporters in the US and abroad. Automakers, dealerships, solar and EV-charging equipment companies, as well as municipalities, government agencies, and universities are among them. It wouldn't be fair to name only a few, but we do want to send a shout out to our exclusive automotive sponsor, Nissan LEAF.

Media interest in National Drive Electric Week was unprecedented this year, with coverage appearing in more than 180 national and local outlets. The Weather Channel broadcast prime-time TV news coverage, and EV owners of all sorts got some ink from coast-to-coast. Attending a Woodland Hills, Calif. event, Linda Tcimpidis spoke to a reporter with the Los Angeles Daily News. "I love this car," said Leaf driver Tcimpidis, 61. Added the event's 17-year-old organizer, Eric Doroski: "It's the future of cars, being plugged in."

National Drive Electric Week was a hit on social media, too, reaching a peak of 3.4 million Twitter users. If you want to spread the good news about plug-in cars, please share this article. Also, post a comment to let us know how your local event went and how charged up you are.

Photo 1: an EV parade in Copenhagen, courtesy of John Krøll; Photo 2: Kendra Griffin with her sons in New York City, courtesy of Gina Coplon-Newfield; Photo 3: workplace charging event in Wellesley, MA, courtesy of Bob Frechette Photography and John Hancock Property Management.

Gina Coplon-Newfield directs the Sierra Club’s Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Zan Dubin-Scott is founder of National Drive Electric Week and the Communications Director at Plug In America.

Connecticut on its way to a coal-free future

Earlier this month activists in Bridgeport, Connecticut, cheered when city council members took a bold step in moving the city (and state!) beyond coal.

A bi-partisan resolution that calls for the retirement of the state's last coal plant -- the Bridgeport Harbor Station -- and a community transition process passed out of the city council's Economic and Community Development and Environmental Concerns subcomittee. Granted, this is a non-binding resolution, but activists say it's still a great step that will encourage other residents and officials to see the momentum and call for the plant's retirement as well.

"This will send a strong message that Bridgeport wants to move beyond coal, and that the city wants to do so in a way that protects the community and the workers," says Onte Johnson, a Beyond Coal organizer in Bridgeport.

The next step for the resolution is a review and possible final approval from the full city council on October 6. Between now and then, Johnson says even more work will be done by local activists in coalition with the Sierra Club, the Healthy Connecticut Alliance, and other community groups. He adds that this resolution evolved from an earlier push by a city councilman who the Sierra Club educated about the effects of the coal plant on children's health.

See a good wrap-up of the vote from earlier this month and a talk about the next steps by Johnson in this video.
 

Continue reading "Connecticut on its way to a coal-free future" »

Wrapping Up the UN Climate Summit

 

At Tuesday’s United Nations Climate Summit, political and economic leaders came together to announce new actions and launch new initiatives to help tackle the climate crisis. Over 125 world leaders and hundreds of CEOs participated, making it the largest such meeting on climate disruption in history. The meeting had two objectives: to catalyze ambitious action to reduce climate-disrupting emissions and strengthen resilience; and to mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2°C rise in global temperature.

But even with all the presidents, prime ministers, and corporate bigwigs in attendance, the day belonged to Kathy Jetnil-Kijinera, a 26-year-old poet from the Marshall Islands who gave civil society’s opening statement. Her astonishing poem, in the form of a video message to her infant daughter, captured the moment in a way that none of the assembled luminaries could. It was at once unflinching in describing the human stakes, uncompromising in calling out those who impede progress, and unshakable in its faith in the power of ordinary people to force their leaders to take action. Coming on the heels of Sunday’s People’s Climate March, in which 400,000 people marched through New York City demanding that our leaders pursue jobs, justice, and a prosperous economy powered by clean energy, it was a powerful call for continued civic engagement. Watch it here. It’s the most inspiring 3 minutes you’ll spend today--assuming you can watch it just once.

It would be tempting to say that the rest of the event was disappointing by comparison--the usual dronings for which the United Nations is so frequently taken to task. And in fact, much of it was. But there was also cause for optimism to be found in a range of commitments and initiatives that will help address the crisis, and will build political momentum for the more transformative actions that countries have agreed to announce in early 2015 in the runup to the Paris negotiations. Some highlights included:

  • China’s announcement that it will put forward its plan to reduce emissions in early 2015, and that it will seek to peak its emissions “as soon as possible.” Coupled with the recent news that China’s voracious appetite for coal may be waning, this raises the real possibility that China will be able to peak its emissions much earlier than previously projected.

  • Denmark’s announcement that it will be powered exclusively by renewable energy by 2035, and the commitment of other countries such as Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and Iceland to be carbon neutral by 2050.   

  • France’s commitment to contribute $1 billion to the initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund.

  • Germany’s announcement that it will no longer use its development assistance to fund overseas coal projects, ending an important source of public subsidy for coal plants.

  • And, of course, President Obama’s call for his fellow world leaders to lead on tackling the climate crisis – as he called it, the “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”  

In addition to the country commitments, a number of promising initiatives were launched to expand financing for clean energy, improve the efficiency of cities, limit deforestation, strengthen climate resilience and improve agricultural practices. The full range of commitments and initiatives can be found here.

But even if all of these initiatives were flawlessly implemented and wildly successful, they would not save Ms. Jetnil-Kijinera’s daughter and her compatriots from the fate that threatens them:

that the

lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise…will devour you…

[and] you, your daughter and your granddaughter, too

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home

That will take far more ambition from political leaders—and more vigilant, sustained public pressure to force them to act. That’s why the hundreds of thousands who marched on Sunday know these were only the first steps for a growing, strengthening movement.

--Steve Herz, Senior Attorney, International Climate Program, Sierra Club



Why The Climate Movement Cannot Ignore Trade

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Photo courtesy of Jim Wylie

This past weekend, I joined more than 400,000 community members on the frontlines of climate disruption, environmentalists, workers, students, parents, and others to demand action on climate and to claim our collective rights to clean water, air, and land.

As someone who has spent many years in the halls of Congress and United Nations climate conventions calling for strong climate action, this diverse, public, outspoken, and in-the-streets action was a beautiful, incredible feat that signals a tipping point in the climate movement that policymakers will not be able to ignore.

But there is another tipping point that will affect the success of the climate movement: the free trade tipping point.

The health of our planet depends on our ability to make big changes in our economy.  These changes include moving beyond fossil fuels and building local green economies. However, our current model of free trade, which is written into agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), threatens nearly every aspect of this much-needed economic transition. And yet, the U.S. is currently negotiating massive new free trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific Rim nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. These deals would severely restrict the ability of governments to restructure our economy and address the climate crisis.

If these deals are beat-back, we can open up space for governments to embrace a new model of trade that is compatible with—even supports—efforts to combat the climate crisis. If these agreements move image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14092418/68c8324d-400d-4c6f-9e1f-fea3b45e5a68.pngforward, they lock in a new set of rules that will further hinder our ability to solve the climate crisis.

Let’s take a deeper look at just how our trade rules are getting in the way of climate progress.

Corporate challenges to climate and clean energy policies: In order to combat the climate crisis, we must move beyond fossil fuels and embrace clean energy. However, investment rules in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties threaten our ability to do so. The rules actually empower corporations to sue governments, in the secrecy of private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits, including protections from dirty fossil fuels. Such rules have allowed corporations including Chevron and ExxonMobil to launch nearly 600 challenges against almost 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules in free trade and investment
agreements to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec, a nuclear energy phase-out and new coal-fired power plant standards in Germany, and requirement for a pollution clean-up in Peru. Nearly 60 percent of so-called investor-state cases are decided in favor of the investor (making taxpayers foot the bill to the corporation or investor) or settle (sometimes weakening the policy, as happened in Germany). When governments “win,” they just get to keep the policy in place and are often stuck with part of a legal tab averaging $8 million per case.

Continue reading "Why The Climate Movement Cannot Ignore Trade" »

Developing clean energy and protecting wild places

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What does a plan to protect the often undervalued and misunderstood California desert and its wildlife have to do with moving the U.S. to a clean energy economy? Everything! If California gets renewable energy development done correctly here, then it can be a blueprint for clean energy development nationwide.

Today, the Obama administration and the California Governor Jerry Brown administration released the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, a habitat conservation plan designed to protect species, ecosystems, and other heritage areas in the California desert region while developing up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2040. This plan covers 22.5 million acres of public and private land across seven counties and will provide protection for 37 keystone desert species, many of them threatened or endangered.

Photo 3California's vast desert region has been the focus of rapid large-scale renewable energy development for the past several years, aided by both California' s aggressive 33 percent by 2020 renewable energy goal and federal stimulus funding. In a rush to meet targets and funding deadlines, federal and state agencies approved multiple large projects, mainly on public lands, many of them with dire consequences for important desert ecosystems and species like the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, Mohave ground squirrel, and rare endemic plants.  

The Ivanpah project, a huge solar thermal project built on the California/Nevada border, became the emblem of harmful siting. This vast project eliminated several square miles of prime habitat for desert tortoise and became the leading edge in protests against governments' failure to protect important wild habitats while building renewable energy. Unfortunately, once up and running, operators further discovered that as blazing heat was reflected from mirrors to the top of the power towers, birds attracted to the location were being killed or maimed, their wing feathers damaged by the high temperatures.  

Rapidly increasing our clean energy capacity is essential to stopping the worst of climate disruption, and as new technology is tested, unforeseen impacts will occur. But we must prioritize protecting vulnerable wildlife and habitats while we build renewable energy. We don't have to trade one for the other.  

That's why a broad range of people who care about the California desert region have been quietly working for several years on the DRECP, which aims to permit large-scale renewable energy development and at the same time provide lasting protections for the region's unique and irreplaceable desert ecosystems, American Indian cultural resources, and other essential elements of our desert heritage. People across California have provided a wealth of input to state and federal officials on where renewable energy should be built, how to best protect air and water quality, what areas should be off-limits to energy development, and what kinds of protections are important to ensure desert wildlife and other resources endure for the next hundred years and beyond -- even in the face of climate change.

Concerned citizens have also weighed in on California's overall energy policy, pointing out that greatly ramping up energy efficiency and local clean energy, like rooftop solar, will reduce the need to build large-scale projects and thus protect valuable and ever-shrinking intact ecosystems and cultural lands.  

The DRECP has the potential to provide long-term conservation to protect vulnerable desert species like the Mojave desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and Mohave ground squirrel. At the same time it will incentivize and streamline renewable energy development focused in low-impact zones.

Most importantly, if done well it will set the bar for how to develop renewable energy in a way that protects our natural heritage and conserves critical landscapes far into the future. The right plan can be a blueprint for the rest of the nation as we move to a sustainable clean energy future.

-- Barbara Boyle, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. Top photo by Jardine Hammond.

People's Climate March draws more than 400,000

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"Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People's Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big." So said the New York Times in its front-page coverage of the People's Climate March in Manhattan.

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More than 400,000 citizen activists, including more than 25,000 Sierra Club members, joined in what is being called the largest climate march in history. It was also the largest-ever gathering of Sierra Club members and supporters in the history of the organization. More than 100 buses from 35 states were organized and funded by the Club, which also ran Climate Caravan trains from Washington, D.C., the Midwest, and as far away as California.

Pcm marchers

Indigenous groups, labor, youth, scientists, food justice and clean water activists, religious groups, and civil rights organizations joined environmental groups in calling on world leaders attending the UN Climate Summit in New York this Tuesday to start taking real action to halt climate disruption.

PCM7

Among those marching were United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, former vice president Al Gore, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who just announced that the city was committing to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

PCM1

The march's official starting point was on 59th Street at Columbus Circle, on the southwest corner of Central Park. But from the early morning hours, the crowd stretched for miles up Central Park West to 86th St. and beyond, swelling in numbers and energy with each passing hour.

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Banners were raised, speakers, drummers, and musicians fired up the crowd, and marchers swapped stories as helicopters beat the air overhead.

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At the Sierra Club stage at 75th St., Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club president David Scott, national program director Sarah Hodgdon, former Club president Allison Chin, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota were among the speakers.

Sarah allison pcm Dave scott
Sierra Student Coalition director Karissa Gerhke and SSC ex-com leader BoRa Kim also fired up the crowd with call-and-response cheers like, "What do we want?" "Clean energy!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

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"This was an opportunity to show the world that the climate movement can and should involve us all," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "I'm proud of the fact that the Sierra Club was able to harness the energy and commitment of so many people to join together with so many different organizations who have the same goal –- to take action on climate disruption and advance the new, clean, just, clean energy prosperity."

PCM4

Years from now, if world leaders listen to the alarm being sounded by citizens to take meaningful action to curb climate disruption, future generations may look back at the People's Climate March as the watershed moment when the tide turned in the fight against climate disruption.

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Check out this Sierra Club photo gallery of People's Climate March photos.

Will Germany Join the International Community and Restrict Overseas Coal Finance?

"In New York, I will announce that the government will change its position on the financing of coal-fired power plants abroad." -- German Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendriks September 17th, 2014.

This exciting statement could substantially change what German overseas investments, from important institutions like KfW, support. That’s particularly important for those concerned about the impacts the global coal industry has on our health and environment because Germany is currently the third largest source of international public financing for coal.

In fact, since 2006, Germany has invested 3.3 billion euros in new coal infrastructure. Any change to their support for this dirty and deadly industry will have real financial impact as well as strike a symbolic blow to the industry.

Coal germany

But if Germany is so coal friendly, why is it contemplating this significant move away from international coal financing? Because the international community has moved swiftly and quickly to end coal financing, and Germany doesn’t want to be an outlier.

Since last summer, the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank have all implemented narrow restrictions on coal support. A number of  countries -- including the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, and Nordic countries -- have done so as well.

When it comes to public divestment from coal, the dominoes keep falling.

But as exciting as Germany’s announcement is, the devil is in the details. Many observers are worried that there will be attempts to render Environment Minister Hendrik’s announcement toothless by creating loopholes that the coal industry could drive a truck through. Those concerns stem from KfWs fierce defence of financing for new coal plants in the past, claiming that it is compatible with a 2°C climate target. Coupled with a regressive push by parts of the government like the Ministry of Economy which is fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the limitations don’t apply to the funds they control, there is indeed cause for concern.

For instance, right now the announcement only covers the environment and development ministry’s budgets. That leaves over half of all support coming from key trade promotion agencies -- like Euler Hermes and IPEX -- uncovered. The details for restricting support for overseas coal financing through those agencies are still being negotiated and therefore vulnerable to these regressive efforts.

One key concern is that these agencies will seek to continue providing support for ‘highly efficient coal-fired power plants’. This would constitute a gaping loophole in the announcement , and would be well out of line with international best practice.

In order to join the international community and make this announcement something civil society can embrace, KfW must follow the steps of other major institutions -- like the European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank -- and announce an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) that restricts the carbon intensity of power plant investments.

This approach is far superior to KfW’s current plan because it firmly aligns with a growing call to end support and investment for new unabated coal-fired power plants. An EPS achieves this by setting the investment standard between 500 - 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, which only allows for coal-fired power plants that effectively capture and store their carbon emissions.

Emissions performance

The German government will need to sort out these details after its announcement at the UN Climate Summit. If their proposal has weak criteria and large loopholes, it will be impossible for civil society to embrace what can and should be a climate victory for the German government.

If Environment Minister Hendriks’ does announce a  stringent, comprehensive  limitation on overseas coal financing, in line with the international community, it would be exactly the kind of  action that 100,000 environmental, labor, faith, and social justice activists will be marching for this Sunday in New York City at the People’s Climate March, and its affiliated events worldwide.

But the question looms - with the world now watching, will Germany join the international community or buck international trends?

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program


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