Halting Mass Suicide by Coal—interview w/Heffa Schücking

Do you think coal power is disappearing, being replaced by cleaner natural gas and renewable energy? Think again. According to data released by the International Energy Agency in 2018, coal consumption is going back up after two years of decline. That is terrible news for our future climate.

Most of that new demand is coming from Asia. Japan and South Korea are pumping billions into new coal plant construction. Despite the good news you’ve heard about massive renewables in China, Chinese banks are investing tens of billions of dollars to expand coal power in many parts of the world. Wall Street is funding even more.

Here to give us the big picture is Heffa Schuecking, a long-standing environmental leader in Germany, and a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. She is Managing Director of the German non-profit group Urgewald, which maintains a database of all coal projects and investors world-wide.

Show by Radio Ecoshock, reposted under CC License. Episode details at https://www.ecoshock.org/2019/01/halting-mass-suicide-by-coal.html

Stop Fossil Fuels researches and disseminates effective strategies and tactics to halt fossil fuel combustion as fast as possible. Learn more at https://stopfossilfuels.org


From the outside, we hear a lot about solar power and Danish wind sweeping into the German electricity system. But at least 35% of German power still comes from coal.

In October 2018, about 50,000 protesters showed up to fight off the energy company RWE. That company wants to clear-cut more ancient Hambach Forest in Germany for a giant open-pit coal mine.


To prevent horrible climate change, we need to get out of coal power. But according to the group CoalEXit, since the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the number of coal power plants in the world has continued to grow. They say new coal plants starting up in the last three years use as much coal as “all of Japan’s and Russia’s coal plants put together.”


No country has installed more solar power, or more mass transit, than China. They are world leaders in alternative tech. But what is the situation with coal power in China now? Officially, the Chinese government has recognized climate change as a serious threat. Unlike the United States and other countries in retreat or denial, China speaks as a world leader on climate change. So it was shocking to learn from Heffa’s group Urgewald that China is financing massive amounts of coal power expansion all over the world.

In May 2017, the Global Environmental Institute, based in Beijing, reported that Chinese companies and banks are involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 of the 65 countries along their “Belt and Road” project. Fifty four were already under construction by 2016.

The United States reduced their fossil fuel emissions partly by exporting their dirtiest industries to Asia, mainly to China. Now the Chinese government is facing serious public pressure to clean up polluted air. I wonder if their plan is to export the dirtiest industries to other Asian countries in the Belt and Road orbit.


But let us not just make Chinese companies and banks the boogey-man. Only one third of proposed new coal plants are financed or built by Chinese interests. The other two thirds comes from other nationalities. For example, Japanese companies and banks are pushing coal plants. So is the biggest source of capital on the planet: Wall Street. Through large investment houses, your own pension fund or mutual fund may be investing in wrecking the planet with more coal plants. Short term profit rules over ecological survival!

Many companies that sell coal plants in Africa, Eastern Europe, and the rest of the world are hard to track. They may have names that suggest they really sell alternative or green energy. There are corporate shells hiding the real investors. That is why Urgewald created a massive database which names names. You or your investment manager can check for dirty companies using that database.

Another tool is to insist that insurance companies get out of coal. We tend to forget that insurance companies hold and invest trillions of dollars/euros/pounds or yen. Urgewald has great success in getting three of Europe’s (and the world’s) largest insurance companies to name their coal exit date. Germany’s giant Allianz insurance has promised to stop insuring coal companies, and to withdraw investments from any projects or companies dealing in coal in a structured way over the next couple of decades. The Italian insurer Assicurazioni Generali has also promised to cut out coal.


Heffa says that 53% of Europe’s emissions come from coal plants in Germany and Poland. Closing these coal plants is key to Europe meeting their climate targets. 670,000 megawatts are planned for construction, which would increase global coal plant emissions by 33%!

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