The US “Beyond Coal” Campaign’s Lessons for Climate Policy

The past two weeks of climate negotiations in Bonn were once again mostly consumed by sickening agenda fights and procedural wrangling, and that’s really all there is to say about them. As an antidote I recommend this detailed article on US civil society’s “Beyond Coal” campaign by Mark Heertsgaard – “The biggest climate victory you never heard of”. His comparison of the campaign’s impact with the one the failed cap-and-trade bill would have had is probably comparing apples and oranges, it certainly isn’t using the same baseline, but others such as Lester Brown have also credited much of coal’s decline in the US to the campaign.

“Beyond Coal’s successes offer ‘a fundamental message about how to make change in this country'”, the article says, but I think the lessons are equally applicable to all other countries. To once again quote from one of my favourite assessments of the Durban conference:

Politics hardly moves ahead of the facts. It is not a proactive process. It is a responsive one. Politics responds to active interests in economy and society. It seldom reflects even the ‘inactive majority’ or the majority of ‘public opinion’. Political decisions respond to ‘active interest groups’, to economic constraints and inducements, and to the domestic correlation of power. Countries that show greater ambition of emissions reductions also have greater active political support from domestic economic and social forces to policies aiming at coping with climate change. Their domestic policies are usually more ambitious than their multilateral commitments.

The crucial conflict in climate policy is hence not taking place internationally but domestically. It is the conflict between the innovators and the incumbent industries whose business models rely on fossil fuels. The international conflicts about who should go first and do how much are to a large extent just a smoke screen to cover up lack of domestic political will. To achieve any progress it will be necessary to overcome the blocking power of the incumbent industries, for which political mobilisation of the population will be crucial.

Related Posts:

Videos: That’s So Coal

On the Road Again – Wuppertal Institute Assessment of the Durban Conference

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