Will The UK Phase Out Coal Plants?

CoalPrime Minister David Cameron looks like he’s ready to move the UK beyond coal.

In his statement at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City last week, Prime Minister Cameron pledged higher emissions standards for UK’s coal-fired power plants, and his team later tweeted that he plans to phase out existing coal-fired power plants in the UK in the next 10 to 15 years.

As one of the world’s leaders in carbon emissions, that’s huge. And this is just the latest in a series of steps away from coal for the UK.

At the COP19 Warsaw Climate Conference last year, following the lead of the United States and several Nordic countries, the UK announced that it would no longer publicly finance international coal projects.

However, recent efforts to lobby for the continued operation of the Aberthaw coal-fired power plant in South Wales directly contradict the government’s initiatives to advance the UK’s energy sector beyond a heavy reliance on coal. As it stands, the Aberthaw plant burns coal that is unusually difficult to ignite and employs chemical processes that result in nitrogen oxide (NoX) emissions five times above the legal limit. In fact, the plant was named as one of the top 30 highest carbon emitting plants in the Europe.

But despite its heavy emission output, Aberthaw coal-fired power plant remains exempt from European Commission regulations based on shaky arguments that it uses indigenous coal which is safe from the volatility of an international coal supply.

A recent flagship report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate on the new climate economy explicitly calls for “high-income countries to commit to avoiding further construction of new unabated coal as a minimum first step to avoid further lock-in to high GHG emissions and accelerate retirements of old plants.”

And this report is not merely an exercise in academia; the Commission includes former heads of state and finance ministers, the head of one of China’s largest private banks, and high ranking officials from the world’s leading international economic institutions including the OECD, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.  While the scientific case for the risks of continued coal consumption has broad consensus, this report is among the first to make a comprehensive economic case for a decisive shift away from coal.

The world will be watching to see if Prime Minister Cameron is all talk or if he’ll follow-up on his pledge with concrete action.

-- Rohan Bhatia, International Climate Program Intern

New Database Shows Solar is Soaring in Schools

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Solar is soaring to the top of the class.

Recently, the Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their National Solar Schools Census, the most extensive database of it’s kind, that catalogues all solar-powered K-12 schools in the U.S.

The goal of the database is to serve “as a starting point for sharing ideas and best practices between schools experienced with solar energy and those seeking to join their ranks.” And from the looks of it, they’ve already got a head start.

According to the report, there have been more than 3,700 solar systems installed on U.S. schools, which in turn powers the education of almost 2.7 million students each day. But that’s just a small fraction of solar’s potential in education. An estimated 72,000 schools -- that’s 60 percent of all schools nationwide -- can still cost-effectively go solar. To put that into perspective, that would be the equivalent of taking one million vehicles off the road.

And that number is expected to continue to grow by leaps and bounds.

In the last six years alone, solar’s rate of installation at schools has jumped by 110 percent, and over the past four years, the cost of installation has fallen by more than 50 percent. If this trend continues -- and experts predict that it will -- we can expect a sunnier future for our students.

At a time when transitioning to clean energy is a key weapon in tackling the climate crisis, that’s huge.  

Already, climate disruption is fuelling an increase in sea level rise, Arctic ice melting, decreasing wildlife, unchecked wildfires, severe droughts, and extreme temperatures. Without immediate action -- both globally and in our own backyards -- our communities will see these dangers increase and our children will come to recognize them as the new normal.

And that’s just the half of it. Already, unchecked carbon pollution from each coal-fired power plant leads to 491 asthma attacks and 22 asthma-related emergency room visits each year, many of those children. When you couple the effects on children’s health with the time spent missing school as a result of illness, the true cost of carbon pollution for children is staggering.

Luckily, many schools are taking action and cutting carbon pollution by switching to solar. These schools are not only helping to protect the health of their students, but they’re giving the next generation a leg up.

With the potential for solar schools nearly endless, that’s an A+ in our books.

Are your curious to see if your school made the switch to solar? Check out the interactive map.

-- Sierra Club Media Team

Food and Our Climate

As the threat of climate disruption becomes increasingly urgent, it makes sense that every  source of greenhouse gas emissions should come under scrutiny. Both the reckless burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable agricultural practices are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. However, as the recent documentary film Cowspiracy rightly points out, the latter are too often overlooked as a potential source of reductions.

In fact, how we farm and what we eat can make a real difference for our climate future, and that knowledge should inform not only our personal choices but also our public policies. Eliminating or reducing meat consumption in your diet is one important way to reduce your contribution to climate change, since animal agriculture is the single largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production. At the same time, the Sierra Club continues to support broader reforms in food production that will also help limit climate disruption.

Many current agricultural practices, such as large-scale monocropping (the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land) and concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs), consume disproportionate amounts of fossil fuels, pollute our water and air, deplete the soil, and diminish biodiversity. The good news is that we have many opportunities to improve in all of these areas.

We're calling for reform of industrial agricultural and food system practices, to minimize contributions to greenhouse gases and to maximize carbon sequestration in plants and soils. The pollution from concentrated animal-feeding operations in particular is grossly disproportionate to the amount of food produced. Growing heavily subsidized energy-intensive corn to convert to ethanol fuel makes no sense from an energy, food supply, climate or pollution standpoint and it should be opposed.

The single greatest source of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is livestock, particularly factory-raised animals. Cattle (for both beef and milk, as well as for inedible outputs like manure and draft power) are responsible for about two-thirds of livestock emissions.

Fortunately, we can cut livestock emissions significantly not only by reducing personal meat consumption but also by following best practices and ending our reliance on concentrated animal-feeding operations. The Sierra Club continues to strongly oppose the establishment of new CAFOs and believes we should phase out existing operations as soon as possible.

Furthermore, ensuring soil maintains its carbon stock is a highly effective means of carbon sequestration. Yet, most agricultural soils have had their carbon stock dramatically reduced by soil loss, excessive tillage, overgrazing, erosion, and overuse of chemical nitrous fertilizers. In fact, the world's cultivated and grazed soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock. In the process billions of tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere. That's why it's critical that we rebuild soil carbon through regenerative agricultural practices.  

Massive food production operations are at the root of many of these problems. Converting our natural landscapes into intensive agricultural operations can change land from carbon sinks to carbon sources. Deforestation, plowing up prairies, and filling wetlands destroys existing carbon sinks and releases that carbon into our atmosphere, increasing emissions.

As consumers, we each have a personal role to play as well, through our choices about the foods we eat:

  • Whenever possible, we can support locally owned and operated farms, which are generally far less destructive and far more productive. This also reduces the need for long-distance transportation of foods.  
  • We can avoid highly processed, so-called "convenience foods," which are not only nutritionally inferior, but also waste energy and packaging materials.
  • Striving to reduce food waste, through smaller serving sizes, composting, and recycling, will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Organically grown foods that don't rely on chemicals are better for the soil, climate, and our health.

  • If we do choose to eat meat, we should look for grass-fed, responsibly raised beef, which is both healthier and far more sustainable than factory-produced beef.

Addressing climate disruption is important enough that we cannot afford to overlook any strategy for success. Fortunately, just as with transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, we can reap important collateral benefits by adopting more responsible and sustainable agricultural practices and by making smarter lifestyle choices.

-- Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director

 

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

90,000+ Celebrate National Drive Electric Week in 150 Cities

Copenhagen cars

by Gina Coplon-Newfield and Zan Dubin-Scott

In 150 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

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14092418/1240ab81-6d43-4ca4-a01a-10afbf70b092.png
Photo courtesy of Jim Wylie

On September 21, 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" »


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