Stopping carbon

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Stopping carbon


To make sure global temperatures do not rise more than 1.5°C, we cannot burn over 80 per cent of the fossil-fuel we have. Governments are doing nothing. Danny Chivers writes about the social movements taking action on coal mines, oil rigs, infrastructure, and investment.


Illustrations: Jason Ngai


Buddhist temples are taking investments away from fossil fuels. This is part of a global ‘divestment’ movement that has taken over $8 trillion from oil, gas, and coal companies around the world. In Japan three of its biggest banks – Mizuho Financial Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group – are the first, second, and fifth-largest to lend money to coal projects.

A new group of Japanese campaigners, supported by the climate action network, is asking for the divestment of about $25 billion. Tomonobu Narita is a Buddhist priest. He moved part of his temple’s investments into a fossil-free fund. He told NBC News: ‘Small action together with the actions of others has a bigger effect, so I hope for more of that kind of divestment in Japan.’ The three big banks said they will think about and reduce their coal lending. But campaigners want more, especially since other Japanese financial institutions such as Nippon Life, Dai-ichi Life, and ITOCHU said they would lend no money to coal.



European campaigners are celebrating after regulators stopped a big natural gas pipeline. There were plans for part of the $3.4-billion MidCat pipeline to connect Spanish and French gas. They built it in 2012 but no one uses it as politicians fight over the rest of the 1,250-kilometre route.

In January 2019, regulators said no to the middle part of the pipeline and said it was unnecessary and expensive. This was after years of work by campaign group Plataforma Resposta al MidCat. It explained the serious possible climate impacts of the pipeline, especially leaks of methane. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, which can make natural gas as polluting as coal.

The Midi-Catalonia (MidCat) pipeline is just one of more than 90 gas projects planned with possible EU money after the fossil-fuel industry says that gas is necessary before we change to renewables. Campaigners say that building new pipelines and gas plants would make Europe use this dirty fuel for years and years and takes public money away from renewables.



If they build the big Adani Carmichael mine, it will use 0.5 per cent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. This is how much science says we can burn before we go above 1.5° C.

But a group of Pacific Islanders, local indigenous peoples, citizens, and striking schoolchildren are protesting against the Adani group. One of India’s richest men leads the Adani group. Campaigners are also working with anti-pollution activists in India, where most of the 2.7 billion tonnes of coal would go during its 60 years.

In August 2018, a court stopped the legal challenge of the Wangan and Jagalingou peoples, the traditional owners of the land. And so it seemed the Adani group had won. But there is another problem for the mine: environmental standards by the Queensland government will be difficult for the company to meet.

And things are changing in Australia. The big mining company Glencore said that it will make no new investments in coal. This puts more pressure on Adani, and a court in New South Wales will stop a planned new coalmine at Rocky Hill because of climate change.

The #StopAdani campaign means the mine is an important issue for federal elections in May 2019. ‘We have to find ways to keep coal and gas in the ground,’ says Mikaele Maiava, a Pacific Climate Warrior from Tokelau. ‘There is nothing more urgent or necessary.’



Patagonia’s shale could make billions of barrels of oil and gas but local campaigners want to keep it underground.

We think the big Vaca Muerta (‘Dead Cow’) is the world’s second-largest reserve of shale oil and gas. Every big transnational oil company has bought leases to take oil and gas from the Dead Cow, but we can still stop the industry.

The indigenous Mapuche people are taking legal and direct action. About 50 local towns have passed laws to stop it and so this has successfully delayed the building of the fracking rigs. Towns such as Neuquén, Fernandez Oro, and Allen have passed laws for ‘frack-free zones’ around farms and orchards and there are stricter rules. This makes the costs for the industry higher and makes it less attractive to investors.

Fernando Cabrerais is from the NGO Observatorio Petrolero Sur, which is working with local people. He says, ‘To stop apple and pear production for just a few years of gas is terrible.’

Legal action is also stopping oil extraction in other places in Latin America. In Peru, a challenge by the Awajún and Wampis peoples has closed thousands of square kilometres from drilling and made many of the country’s oil plans less likely.



Local campaigners want to stop the building of East Africa’s first coal-fired power station. In 2013, the Amu Power group, led by Kenyan oil company Gulf Energy and supported by Chinese banks, won a government contract to build the power station by the Indian Ocean on Kenya’s southeast coast. This is just 21 kilometres from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lamu Old Town.

The local community needs its farming and fishing and sent groups to South Africa to find out about the impacts of coal plants from people who live near them. They found the real-life stories are very different from Amu Power’s PR promises of jobs, cheap energy, and little pollution.

So, in 2016, Save Lamu took legal action that stopped the planned 1,050-megawatt power station. They got experts to challenge Amu Power’s ideas about air quality, impacts on sea life, and climate change, and they also said that Amu Power did not talk to the local community properly.

Lamu is just one of 1,600 new coal plants planned or under construction around the world. Chinese companies support 700 of them. The new plants would increase the world’s coal power by 43 per cent and make the Paris climate goals impossible.

The Kenyan court’s decision will be in the next few months. It is likely there will be an appeal against a decision and this will delay the construction and give Save Lamu more time for their plans for a green Kenya.



Indigenous communities are working with coalminers to keep at least 500 million tonnes of coal underground.

The big Cerejón mine in La Guajira has been there since the 1980s. Every year, it produces tens of millions of tonnes of coal – the world’s most polluting, carbon-intensive fossil fuel.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have challenged the mine for a long time. They use rights they hold under the country’s constitution. And they have a lot of evidence of damage to health, such as respiratory illnesses and cancer, and to local hunting, fishing, and farming.

The Wayúu people have important friends, the Cerejón’s coalworkers. Aldo Amaya is President of Sintra carbón union. In 2018 he said, ‘When we were a new union, we just thought about workers’ rights. Now we listen more to communities, to learn what is happening to them, and now we want to defend workers and communities.’

The Wayúu people and the union with the help of NGOs and the taking of action like blocking train lines and occupying mines has stopped Cerejón from diverting the Rancheria river to get about 500 million tonnes of coal. The protest is not finished yet. Many think it is possible that Cerejón is diverting tributaries of the river. And coalworkers and communities now have ideas to change from mining to new and traditional ways of earning money to live.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)