Beyond Coal Highlights from COP23

Mary Anne Hitt, Verena Owen, and Bruce Nilles at COP23
Beyond Coal Director Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Volunteer Co-Lead Verena Owen, and Beyond Coal Senior Campaign Director Bruce Nilles at COP23

I’m writing to share highlights from my recent trip to Germany with Bruce Nilles and Verena Owen, and to give you a heads up about some important developments coming up this week. My overwhelming take away is that our work has ratcheted up to a new level on several fronts – movement building, political significance, momentum.

1. Coal phase-out by entire nations is front and center for both the grassroots climate movement and European climate politics. On November 4 we marched with 25,000 people in the streets all calling for a coal phase out last Saturday, the largest climate march in Germany’s history, and Bruce gave a rousing speech on the main stage (clip in this new video here) about how we’ll move forward in spite of Trump, along with other international leaders. The next day over 4,000 people occupied an open pit coal mine (very cool video here), the largest coal and climate direct action in German history. WWF and Greenpeace International have both made phasing out coal one of their top 2 or 3 international priorities. That weekend was a big movement moment for coal to clean energy.

The following Saturday, Michael Bloomberg not only announced a $50 million grant to international work to move beyond coal, but when he announced it — in a move that surprised everyone — he told all the Germans listening to call Merkel and demand a coal phase-out in Germany, one of Europe’s biggest coal countries. Here is a tweet of that moment if you want to amplify it. Bruce and I also presented on the big stage in the U.S. Climate Action pavilion (funded by Bloomberg and other donors because we don’t have an official presence with the other countries). It was really well received and we had a great crowd, and personally was an unforgettable moment in my life.

Mary Anne Hitt and Bruce Nilles at U.S. Climate Action Center
Mary Anne Hitt and Bruce Nilles at the U.S. Climate Action Center

2. Peabody came to COPon Monday, which generated a lot of protests inside the event and negative attention for Trump on media and social media. On Wednesday, Merkel made her announcement hailing Europe’s climate leadership, while acknowledging that Germany will not meet its coal phase-out target. The Sierra Club is working with Greenpeace on pressuring her around the world (you can RT this to help). The issue of a coal phase-out is the one issue preventing Merkel from forming a government, because the Green Party is insisting on it and another key party is refusing. Tod at COP she’ll likely announce their decision. On Thursday, Canada and the U.K. held a press conference to announce a new coal phase-out diplomatic coalition of half-a-dozen countries, which will ratchet this whole push up to a new level politically and diplomatically.

Michael Bloomberg at COP22
Bloomberg Philanthropies founder and CEO Mike Bloomberg announcing a $50 million grant to international work to move beyond coal

3. People around the world are looking to Sierra Club for leadership and inspiration, and are so grateful for our work. It was very moving, and I wish each and every one of you could have heard the gratitude and support from around the globe. Please know that there is great love and admiration out there for your work in more places than you could ever imagine.

4. The Europe Beyond Coal Campaign (great website here) is amazing, has great staff leadership, and is quite similar to ours – a true sister campaign. It spans 28 countries and over 40 organizations, and is bottom up and open source. There are many patterns and similarities in how we do our work – similar strategies, opportunities, and challenges. There was so much synchronicity, and the fact that grassroots-based efforts very similar to ours are bubbling up around the world is a sign to me that something powerful and special is going on.

Outside COP23
Outside the conference center in Bonn

5. Allies around the world are asking us to tell our U.S. story louder, about how we are bringing down emissions in spite of Trump, because it helps them keep their own countries from lowering their ambitions. They told us our story is not getting out internationally, which makes it harder for them to push people like Merkel to make hard political decisions. The COP next year is going to be in a coal mining region of Poland, and allies want our help in demonstrating as much international momentum before then as we can. They will also be ramping up their work on economic transition.

6. We went on a trip to the German coalfields that changed my life. It was as shocking and horrifying as anything related to coal that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. I’ll save the story to share over beers or on my podcast or blog, but the main takeaway is that one of the richest countries in the world is committing atrocious violations of human rights in the name of open pit lignite coal mining, and the communities and advocates want our help to get the story out.

Hambach coal surface mine
Hambach open-pit coal mine 

Perhaps the best part of all was doing Facebook live with Verena from the COP (you can watch it on the Sierra Club’s Facebook page). Having her there was extra special. I wish we could have taken the whole Beyond Coal team with us, but since we couldn’t, I hope these notes and the stories we will share in the coming days will be the next best thing. Thanks to John Coequyt, Steve Herz, Cindy Carr, who came to Bonn and will be carrying this work forward in the important days ahead. And thanks to all of you for building a movement that’s inspiring people around the world, and for giving me the honor of representing all that work on such a big stage.

COP23 video
Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director of Europe Beyond Coal (click on image to watch video)