June has proved to be a great month for the climate, as countries around the world tackle the dangers of fossil fuels head on. Perhaps the action getting the most attention was the announcement earlier this month from G7 leaders that they will phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. While the details remain unclear, the commitment from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Japan, and Italy is an important sign that the G7 countries are prepared to take responsibility as we move toward the climate negotiations in Paris later this year.
While all fossil fuels are feeling the pressure of a carbon constrained world, coal is most clearly feeling the heat.
A recent POLITICO article highlighted coal's demise in the United States, drawing particular attention to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign which has led to the retirement of 195 coal plants in the United States. The market value of publicly traded coal companies fell by 50 percent in less than a year. The industry is facing pressure from all sides, including grassroots activism in communities across the country. Now, President Obama is helping to ensure that coal cannot return to its dirty ways with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.
But the U.S. is not acting alone in its move away from coal and other fossil fuels -- far from it. As Katie Fehrenbacher recently noted in Fortune, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates "there are as many as 200 organizations that have pledged to cut back or eliminate investments in coal or in fossil fuels more generally."
And it is not just small funds that are divesting from coal. In a major blow to the coal industry, the Norwegian government decided in early June to sell the coal shares in its $890 billion government pension fund -- the world's largest sovereign wealth fund.
Meanwhile, Oxfam launched a campaign calling on newly re-elected United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to make good on a pledge he signed with the leaders of the other two main political parties to end the use of unabated coal for power generation. Now activists want Cameron to commit to the specifics by producing a concrete plan to stop burning climate-wrecking coal by 2023, taking the lead in encouraging other rich countries to phase out fossil fuels and dirty coal, and pushing for a fair and ambitious deal at the UN climate talks, including pledging the UK's fair share of finance to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change. You can support this effort by signing the petition and sharing the coal animation narrated by Simon Pegg.
All of this is contributing to coal's downward spiral, which is then further fueled by short sellers who have noted the industry's failings as coal shares return less than other investments. And in a desperate effort to save themselves, even the oil and gas industry is piling on, calling on governments to set a global price on carbon in the hopes that coal will bare the brunt of the damage.
After decades of pollution, it is clear that the rich countries of the world, particularly the countries of the G7, must act to stop pollution from coal -- the biggest contributor to climate disruption. It is clear that they are prepared to talk the talk, and now it is time for them to walk the walk and fill in the specifics for their plan to end our reliance on coal and all fossil fuels if we are to have a chance in the fight against climate disruption.
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