Hey, that’s so not coal!

Aerial view of Hambach coal mine. (Source: Bernhard Lang & Huffington Post)

There were several overarching and predominant themes at COP23. Two of which have been the need for increased ambition pre and post-2020 through NDCs, as well as the rise of non-party stakeholders. A third theme I saw across the two weeks was the conversation on coal.

Firstly, there was the Climate March on the 4th of November, which called for nations to end coal mining and production. Covered by media from all over the world, the march made waves in the news, highlighting the importance for countries to divest from coal and fossil fuels. An estimated 25,000 people attended the march, including a few of us from MYD. It was such an amazing experience and gave us great context into the fight the people of Europe are putting up against their governments and corporations in the battle against climate change.  

Secondly, there was the Ende Gelände movement. Before heading to Germany, I hadn’t heard of this movement. Just before and during COP, I was introduced to the movement and the Hambach coal mine. Situated a mere 50 kilometers away from the COP venue in Bonn, Hambach is the largest open-pit coal mine in Europe, emitting the most carbon dioxide in the continent. In addition to an extremely dirty type of coal called lignite, or brown coal, being extracted there, the coal mine has caused the continual degradation of the surrounding area, including the famous Hambach Forest, a 12,000-year old growth forest. Over the past decade, the Hambach Forest has become a symbol for climate change and of Europe’s inability to leave dirty power in the past. Over the two weeks at COP23, the coal conversation was prevalent, especially in highlighting the hypocrisy of Germany’s rhetoric of clean energy, which the Hambach coal mine roars on. The Ende Gelände movement ultimately culminated in a mass protest at the coal mines by a group of 3,500 activist, just a day before the start of COP23.

Jasmin and Syaqil with a native Sarawakian at the Climate March in Bonn.

This brings us to COP23, where two noteworthy coal-related events took place – the promotion of “clean coal” by the Trump administration, and the announcement of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Hugely publicized, it was well known that the Trump administration did not endorse the traditional US Climate Center that’s a regular at each COP. Instead, there was only one official side-event from the US government, called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation”. Led by the US People’s Delegation, there was a demonstration and walk out that drew massive social media buzz. The Powering Past Coal alliance was announced just before the end of COP23 and consists of Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands. The alliance plans to phase out the use of coal by 2030, which many will argue is just not soon or urgent enough, and underlines the hypocrisy and difference between clean energy rhetoric and action on the ground.

Of course, these two events were not directly related to the COP negotiations, but they were definitely strategically planned, taking place literally just a few days before the summit. Some would argue that any event that takes place outside of the negotiations are distractions and don’t help the cause and the fight against climate change, but I would disagree with that opinion. I think that when we talk about climate change, it needs to be from all angles, in a holistic manner. So, while governments are duking it out in the cozy halls of the makeshift COP venue, any kind of protest, demonstration, or march does justice in drawing attention from all over the world and hopefully puts pressure on countries to act on climate change.

 

Written by Mike

Published by Varun

 

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