Working to reduce the burn

Ever tried eating coal? Oxfam's stunt shows how the food we all rely on is at risk in the face of a changing climate. Photo credit: Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam
Ever tried eating coal? Oxfam's stunt shows how the food we all rely on is at risk in the face of a changing climate. Photo credit: Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam

Climate change is already affecting what we all eat, and is the biggest threat to winning the fight against hunger. Coal is the single biggest driver of climate change - responsible for one third of all CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution. With these climate impacts falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable and least food secure, the burning of coal is further exacerbating inequality. Each coal power station can be seen as a weapon of climate destruction – fuelling ruinous weather patterns, devastating harvests, driving food price rises and ultimately leaving more people facing hunger.  For this reason Oxfam is urging rich countries to urgently move away from coal and introduce 100% renewable energy. Developing countries, many of whom are already taking ambitious action, should be supported to build their economies based on renewable energies. Below you can see the work Oxfam is doing in this area.


Historically, rich countries like the UK have contributed massively to climate change. It’s time for the UK to lead by example and publish a plan to phase out coal – and then push others to do the same. There has never been a better time to call on the UK government to stop coal pollution. With world leaders set to agree a global climate deal in Paris this December, the UK must lead the way by ending emissions from coal power stations. Otherwise, we risk making climate change – and global hunger – even worse.


France is a major funder of coal projects in other countries - including a number of dirty old coal plants in the UK, Poland and South Africa - via two state-owned companies: EDF and Engie (ex-GDF Suez). Oxfam France released a joint report with Friends of the Earth on 19th May revealing that their coal plants emit each year the equivalent of almost half of France’s CO2 emissions. In the year of the Paris climate summit the French Government should lead by example and direct EDF and Engie to phase out its investments in coal and stop funding new projects immediately. Unless France takes leadership to phase out coal, how can it expect developing countries to take action as well? Campaigners in France can support our actions all year. 


During the G7 energy ministers meeting on the 11-12th of May, Oxfam Germany launched its campaign „Kohle kostet Leben!“ (English: Coal costs lives). The campaign features a report on coal in Germany and on the impacts of climate change in the global south, a campaign-website and a petition targeting the German chancellor Angela Merkel, calling for a coal phase-out. 

With this campaign Oxfam Germany is calling on the German government to shut down the oldest and most inefficient coal plants by 2020 and to ensure that Germany meets its emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2020. Oxfam Germany is also calling for a complete coal phase-out by 2040 and a 100 percent renewables phase-in by 2050 in Germany. Finally the campaign is also aiming to make the German government end public coal financing abroad (implemented by KfW and the German Export Credit Agency ‘Euler Hermes AG’) and for them to consistently finance renewable energy projects in the respective countries instead.


Russia is a heavy carbon emitter with vast fossil fuel resources, especially coal. Yet renewable energy has the potential to meet the needs of domestic energy consumption and provide enough “green” energy for exports. A smart step in this direction could be a switch from coal to renewable energy that would reduce carbon emissions, local pollution, human health risks, and also reduce utility bills costs for low income people.

Oxfam Russia is undertaking research on what policies are needed nationally, with 2-3 case studies in Russian provinces on the opportunities and barriers for expanding RE. And working on a pilot project in Altai region to install a heat pump and minimize coal combustion in an isolated school. 


Let them eat coal: Why the G7 must stop burning coal to tackle climate change and fight hunger

Speaking Truth to Power: Why energy distribution, more than generation, is Africa's poverty reduction challenge (links to Oxfam America's website)

Powering up against poverty: Why renewable energy is the future (link to Oxfam Australia's website)

John Magrath's blogs on solar energy