Shell Abandons Plan for Drilling in Arctic Seas

Yesterday, the CEO of Shell Oil announced sharply lower earnings and canceled plans to try to drill in Arctic seas off the coast of Alaska.  While couched in terms of a temporary decision applying only to this summer’s drilling season, the actual press announcement by the company had the feel of a more dramatic change of course:

“The recent [federal appeals court] decision against the Department of the Interior raises substantial obstacles to Shell’s plans for drilling in offshore Alaska. As a result, Shell has decided to stop its exploration programme for Alaska in 2014. ‘This is a disappointing outcome, but the lack of a clear path forward means that I am not prepared to commit further resources for drilling in Alaska in 2014,’ van Beurden said. ‘We will look to relevant agencies and the Court to resolve their open legal issues as quickly as possible.’”

Pacific Environment was one of the first to start this fight, back in the mid-2000s, challenging oil and gas leases the Bush administration was selling to Shell and other oil companies. Our early concerns centered around the fears and concerns of Native Alaskan leaders how oil drilling might harm their traditions and food security.

The fight has snowballed as major environmental allies have joined, pulling out the stops to alert U.S. citizens of what could be lost if oil companies try to use current technologies in extreme Arctic conditions. When BP was unable to cap the Deepwater Horizon spill disaster in Gulf Coast waters, it demonstrated the much graver risk of trying to cap a spill in frigid, dark Arctic waters.

A huge part of the victory has been strategic use of the courts, challenging a complicit government’s failure to hold Shell accountable for oil spill preparation in Arctic conditions and to honestly account for the true risk to the Arctic’s polar bears, whales, walruses, and other iconic wildlife. A special shout-out is warranted to Earthjustice, NRDC, and pro bono lawyers who led that part of the charge so winningly.

If this sounds like a valedictory, it is not quite.  The ground now turns to President Obama’s administration to back up the strong, welcome rhetoric about addressing climate change with meaningful action against opening up our Arctic to oil multinationals—and meaningful action against an “all of the above” energy policy. In a world of changing climate, we’ll need a “no-carbon energy policy,” and “all of the above” isn’t the path to get there.

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Climate Change, Communities, Energy, Oceans, offshore drilling | Comments Off

Kicking off 2014 with a bang


For more than seven years, Pacific Environment and allies have single-handedly been stopping Shell Oil from drilling in fragile Arctic seas.

Now, Shell is busy preparing to return to the Arctic in time to drill during the summer season. But this week a federal court threw a wrench into the oil giant’s plans when it ruled against our government’s decision to open up America’s Arctic to international oil corporations. In fact, this is the second time a court ruled against oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.

The Chukchi Sea is part of America’s Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska, and home to many iconic wildlife species like the beluga whale above.

The Chukchi Sea is part of America’s Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska, and home to many iconic wildlife species like the beluga whale above.

The Chukchi Sea is part of America’s Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska, and home to many iconic wildlife species like the beluga whale above.

Together with our allies, we went to court (again) because the Bush administration violated the law when it sold oil and gas leases to Big Oil. The court agreed, and now the Department of the Interior must conduct a careful and honest analysis of the harm oil drilling may inflict on iconic wildlife like polar bears, walrus, whales, and seals, as well as on the food security of indigenous peoples.

This is an historic opportunity for President Obama to prove that he is committed to fighting climate change. Instead of allowing Big Oil to extract more dirty fossil fuels that will only worsen Arctic ice melt, the President should halt all drilling and cancel the ill-conceived Chukchi leases.

Remember when Shell tried to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska in 2012? 

It was a complete fiasco—and demonstrated that no oil company on earth is currently prepared to safely drill in extreme Arctic conditions. One of Shell’s drill rigs ran aground and together with another malfunctioning rig incurred over a million dollars in fines for air pollution violations, while the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice opened investigations for marine pollution and safety violations.

We’re running out of time. The Arctic is warming twice as fast than the rest of the world, and the Arctic ice that helps regulate the planet’s climate is melting at record speed.

Let’s hope the President and his administration will seize this historic opportunity to cancel America’s Arctic oil drilling program and get back on the path toward a clean energy future.

Posted in Biodiversity, California, Marine, Oceans, Uncategorized | Comments Off

U.S. Government Finance Agency Curbs Coal Support

Today, the Directors of the U.S. Government’s largest trade promotion agency, the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), approved restrictions on financing for coal plants abroad. In doing so, the Ex-Im Bank became the first government export credit agency in the world to curb coal plant financing.

But the restrictions include unnecessary exemptions. For example, in some circumstances, the Ex-Im Bank will be allowed to continue supporting coal plants that pollute the world’s poorest countries. In addition, in most countries, it will be permitted to finance coal plants that employ Carbon Capture and Storage—a technology to sequester carbon dioxide that has not been proven to be viable for most commercial coal plants. The policy also allows financing for most coal mines.

“It’s great that the Export-Import Bank is curbing coal financing, but the loopholes appear big enough to drive a coal train through,” said Doug Norlen, Policy Director, Pacific Environment.

At the same time, the policy conditions financing for coal plants in poor countries on an analysis demonstrating that there are no economically feasible alternatives.  This analysis must factor in externalities such as the “social cost of carbon,” including the cost of harm to human health from coal plant pollution which, if properly measured and internalized, will make most coal plants non-viable when compared to renewable energy alternatives.

In recent years, the Ex-Im Bank has supported enormous coal power plants, including providing $805 million in financing for the enormous Kusile coal power plant and mine in South Africa in 2011, and $917 million in financing of the Sasan coal power plant and mine in India in 2010. The Kusile and Sasan coal power plants and mines will spew local air pollution leading to increased health problems in local communities that, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, include respiratory and cardiopulmonary disease and cancer deaths. The 3,690 megawatt Sasan and 4,800 Kusile coal power plants are far larger than the typical 500 megawatt coal plant in the U.S.

The Ex-Im Bank will continue to finance coal plants in developing countries, including the Sasan plant in India.

The Ex-Im Bank will continue to finance coal plants in developing countries, including the Sasan plant in India.

The Ex-Im Bank’s continued support of certain coal projects have prompted Pacific Environment and other groups to file a federal lawsuit against the agency for financing coal exports from Appalachia without conducting any environmental or health analysis.  Pacific Environment and other groups have filed a separate federal lawsuit against Ex-Im Bank for financing liquid natural gas projects being built within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area—projects which source gas from coal beds.

As part of their larger government commitments to curb public financing for coal plants abroad, Nordic countries are expected to decide in early 2014 whether to restrict coal financing by their export credit agencies.

“It’s high time for progressive governments in the Nordic countries to do the right thing for local communities and the global climate by banning export credit agency financing for coal,” said Norlen.

Meanwhile, the U.K. exempts its export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), from the country’s recently announced coal financing restrictions. UKEF has provided $100 million in financing for coal mines in recent years.

Posted in Coal, Energy, Export Credit Agencies, Finance, Global, Policy, Responsible Finance | Comments Off

How to Build a Grassroots Climate Change Movement in China

Zhao Zhong joined Pacific Environment’s China team one year ago. After a successful career at the helm of Green Camel Bell, a grassroots environmental group based in Gansu Province, Zhao Zhong was eager to help share his skills with other up-and coming grassroots leaders. As Pacific Environment expands to the air pollution and energy sphere in China, we have been gathering ideas from international colleagues and our partners on the ground in China. Here, Zhao Zhong shares lessons learned and perspectives on the potential to fight climate change in China from the bottom-up.


PE: You attended two international conferences on coal and climate change earlier this summer. What was the purpose of these conferences?

ZZ: The first conference I attended, in May in Australia, brought together a network of international coal activists. The goal was to build a platform for people from different countries and experts to exchange ideas and share interests; for example, I joined the water-energy committee. The second conference I attended, Global Power Shift, was held in Turkey and was open to about 500 youth from all over the world.

PE: How were these meetings different?

ZZ: If the Australia conference was like college, Global Power Shift was like primary school, with basic trainings on media and direct action, and the goal was for youth, from all over the world, to go back to their home countries and start local projects.

PE: What did you learn in Australia?

ZZ: I learned successful cases for how NGOs are fighting coal in Australia, Indonesia, and India. The last day, we had a field trip to a community near a coal mine north of Sydney; I realized how local community-based organizations can be involved in coal, and I learned about their motivations and strategies. Visiting the community gave me some ideas about how we can have bottom-up activities on coal in China, where so far there has been little action.

PE: What impressed you about the Australia coal community you visited?

Global coal activists protest exports in Hunter Valley, Australia

Global coal activists protest exports in Hunter Valley, Australia

ZZ: In Australia, we visited an open pit coal mine. And when the wind blows, coal ash flies into nearby communities, and community members are worried about the impacts on the water and their health. They feel coal should be kept in the ground.  They are also trying to build a large port near the mine and we saw a lot of big ships. Organizers at the Hunter Community Environmental Centre had a map showing the potential expansion of coal mines after the port is built. They were very passionate and good at public speaking and making people understand their worries, and could organize local community members to protest and tell the government their feelings against coal power plant. By contrast, activists in China often feel silenced. Also, I was impressed with their office. They had a lot of materials: signs, banners, models and maps…they had a lot of resources to fight their fight and lots of support from both foundations and community members. Chinese groups are often much poorer; they don’t have offices or good materials. They only have the will to try to do something.

PE: Do you think coal activism has to be different in China?

ZZ:  It has to be somewhat different. Similar to other places, we can do field investigations and policy advocacy, we can tell people the impact coal has on their health and the environment, and we can help impacted people protect their rights. But in many places, like Indonesia and India, it’s okay for people to go to the street, and in China, we can’t organize direct action. In Australia, I also learned some new skills that I think we can use in China; for example, finance campaigning may be a way to have leverage by telling investors which are the risky projects and seeking to prevent new investment in coal.

PE: What did you learn at the Global Power Shift meeting in Turkey?

ZZ: The trainings were more geared toward new activists, but it was important for me to be there because it gave me some ideas for how to encourage youth involvement in the movement. The dozen or so delegates from China had strong English skills and a lot of talent; if they put their energy towards working for NGOs, it will help the movement a lot.

PE: Were the trainings useful for the Chinese delegation?

ZZ: Some were, but I think the most useful aspect of the meeting was simply the opportunity for these youth to go abroad and be exposed to the larger activist community. It inspires them to stay involved back home. The last day of the meeting we had a march in Istanbul, together with local activists, to protest new coal plants in Turkey. Some of the Chinese delegates didn’t want to attend, but those that did attend thought it was really exciting to be out chanting slogans and carrying signs.

Anti-coal protest in Turkey

Anti-coal protest in Turkey

PE: What kind of actions will the delegation bring back to China this year?

ZZ: Many of the delegates were from the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), which I have been advising. In July, they co-organized a climate change summit for about 160 youth. They had keynote speakers on climate issues, from groups like UNEP and the Ministry of Environment, and there were group discussions and a project design competition. During the design competition, I suggested that groups monitor emissions of power plants, but my team designed a project about electronic waste recycling instead. It seems like the attendees don’t know much about what to do about the climate change problem. Mostly they focus on education to other students and campus emissions.

PE: What do you think needs to happen next to charge up a climate change and coal movement in China?

ZZ: I noticed that at Global Power Shift, during the breaks, most people talked about energy and climate. But during breaks at the Beijing youth summit, they talked very little about the climate. It seems true that in China, most people are not that interested in climate change compared with other areas especially Africa, Europe, and the US. Yet, I do think things are changing in China; and certainly the younger generation knows more about climate change. Even for those of us who understand, we talk about the problem a lot but we lack ground work on China’s number one cause of climate change, which is coal. We need more practical experience on how to fight against coal and climate change locally.

PE: Do you think there is room for activists in China to cooperate with their counterparts abroad on the climate change and coal issues?

ZZ: We need to be connected to global campaigns. In Australia, some people were asking me what NGOs in China were doing about coal imports. It was a bit difficult for me to answer. Chinese environmental problems are very serious but we also need to be much more connected to the global movement and pay more attention to global issues. People need to know where pollution comes from in their community, but they also need to know that when they turn on the heat, it increases risks to people who live in Australia and other countries. Their daily life is connected with global environmental issues.

PE: What are some of the main things you have learned over the past six months?

ZZ: After seeing first-hand the impacts of coal in people’s daily lives in China this past Spring I knew it was a critical issue I wanted to work on. I have learned a lot from activists in other countries and I am clearer now about which models for climate change action will work for China. Being connected with a global activist community, through the meetings I attended this summer, gives me more confidence in this important work.

Posted in China, Civil Society, Coal, Communities, Energy, Grassroots Activism | Comments Off

Big Win for Endangered Whales


It’s official, and I’m jumping with joy.

We protected one of the planet’s most endangered whale populations from additional oil drilling near Sakhalin Island in the Russian sub-Arctic.

Sakhalin Energy, a conglomerate led by Shell Oil and Russia’s Gazprom, asked for two new oil drilling platforms that would have threatened the primary feeding ground of the last 150 Western Gray Whales.

In response, Pacific Environment launched an intensive advocacy campaign to save the whales. Supporters like you sent thousands of emails asking the CEOs of the banks funding this oil project to honor their promise to protect the whales. And we urged international whale scientists to do everything in their power to halt these new platforms.

Shell Oil and Gazprom's oil drilling project in Russian sub-Arctic waters is threatening the survival of the critically endangered Western Gray Whale.

Shell Oil and Gazprom’s oil drilling project in Russian sub-Arctic waters is threatening the survival of the critically endangered Western Gray Whale.

This week we found out that as a result of all these efforts Sakhalin Energy agreed to cancel a risky mobile drilling rig planned for 2014. The company also postponed a decision about building a third, permanent offshore platform until at least 2017. (I’m cautiously optimistic that this delay will ultimately result in cancellation.)

I hope that Sakhalin Energy considered lessons learned from dangerous offshore oil drilling efforts in similar Arctic conditions when making these choices. In recent years, these “lessons” have included harsh weather, equipment failures, human error, legal violations, environmental damage, and death.

In 2011, Gazprom’s Kolskaya mobile rig sank 200 miles off the coast of Sakhalin Island, killing 53 crew members in one of the worst disasters in the history of the Russian oil industry. In 2012, two of Shell’s mobile offshore drilling units went adrift and grounded off the coast of Alaska, requiring rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard.

No oil company on earth is prepared to operate safely and responsibly in extreme Arctic and sub-Arctic conditions. Any attempt to do so endangers the lives of crew members and threatens the well-being of the wildlife and local and indigenous communities that call this fragile region their home.

Sakhalin Energy’s decision to scrap and delay its offshore platform plans just put another nail in the coffin of Arctic oil drilling. Let’s hope we can, soon, lay it to rest forever.

Posted in Arctic, Biodiversity, Finance, Oceans, Responsible Finance, Russia, Sakhalin | Comments Off

Snow Leopards Saved from Gas Pipeline


After years of local and international resistance, Russia’s oil giant Gazprom finally abandoned plans to build a gas pipeline that threatened indigenous cultural sites and untouched wilderness in the Altai Republic in Siberia.

In the last decade, the construction of multi-national pipelines has received worldwide attention—the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. and Canada is a good example. Not only do they cost billions of dollars to build, but they also threaten to devastate ecosystems, pollute water sources, and jeopardize public health.

The proposed Altai pipeline would have stretched 1600 miles across Siberia and into China

The proposed Altai pipeline would have stretched 1,600 miles across Siberia and into China.

In 2006, Gazprom proposed to build 1,600 miles of pipeline to deliver natural gas from Russia to China. Part of the pipeline was supposed to cut through the Ukok Plateau, a remote and pristine grasslands area located in the heart of southwestern Siberia. The Ukok Plateau is part of the Altai Mountains region of Russia that borders China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The plateau is considered sacred by the indigenous peoples of Altai and it is home to many ancient cultural artifacts and endangered wildlife, including the snow leopard, Argali mountain sheep, the steppe eagle, and the black stork.

The Altai gas pipeline would have disturbed the habitat of the endangered snow leopard.

Right away, Pacific Environment started working closely with local activists to campaign against the construction of the Altai gas pipeline. Together we hosted public outreach events to counter the oil giant’s false claims that the pipeline would bring cheap energy to the people of Altai—a powerful promise in an area so remote that many inhabitants do not have access to electricity. We also started working with local activists and entrepreneurs to bring solar power to remote mountain regions. Thanks to these efforts, traditional shepherds now carry solar cells instead of diesel generators to their summer pastures in Altai’s mountains.  Finally, we led outreach efforts to reach the United Nations and potential investors to grow international opposition to pipeline construction.

The Ukok Plateau is home to endangered wildlife and ancient indigenous sites.

The Ukok Plateau is home to endangered wildlife and ancient indigenous sites.

Earlier this year, Gazprom stated that the company is not currently working on the Altai Gas Pipeline and is not planning to fund any work on it in 2014 or 2015. Instead, Russia and China agreed to build a pipeline in the Russian Far East, sparing the unique and sacred ecosystems of Altai.

This is a big win for the natural and cultural treasures of the Altai Republic. But we will remain watchful in case there is any attempt to revive the idea of the Altai gas pipeline. We will also be closely monitoring the planned new pipeline through the Russian Far East.

Posted in Altai, Biodiversity, Communities, Energy, Grassroots Activism, Natural Gas, Russia, Russian Far East | Comments Off

Protecting the Arctic Means Protecting Its People


With climate change melting Arctic ice at an ever alarming rate, we know big changes are in store for this pristine environment. But what impact will the big meltdown have on people?

I have talked with climatologists who say that one big impact will be erratic weather. High pressure tends to center over the coldest sectors of the planet, which greatly influences air and water currents. For example, because of the shrinking Arctic ice pack, the high pressure concentration has been shifting toward Greenland. This high pressure air concentration is making Greenland a more stable cold sink because, there, ice covers a solid land mass.

Here in Alaska, the shifting currents have resulted in one of the warmest summers on recordwith record-breaking temperatures across the state. While some winter-weary Alaskans relish the prospect of warmer summers, the instability of high pressure centers in the Arctic will likely result in more unpredictable weather events.

This weather volatility has big implications for cities threatened with rising sea-levels and aberrant storms. But no one else is more threatened than the people who live in the Arctic and who depend on its environment for their very sustenance.

We have all heard stories of polar bears and other marine mammals struggling to find foodas they have to travel further and further as the ice recedes. But the impact on indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic is just as crucial.

Indigenous populations rely heavily on hunting and fishing for food security.

In many parts of the Arctic, indigenous peoples depend on subsistence hunting and fishing for the lion share of their food. Because they are so reliant on marine mammals, any threat to these mammals is a direct threat to peoples’ food security. Imagine living in a remote Arctic location with no prospect of growing your own food and being largely dependent on what you can catch. You might have a small grocery store in your village, but with exponentially high prices, you would never be able to afford to feed your family from it.

For indigenous peoples, food security is a matter of survival. While climate change is one source of insecurity, there are other threats as well.  As shipping routes expand dramatically across the Arctic to move goods more quickly between Asia and Europe, the pristine environment, upon which marine mammals and people depend on, is threatened by potential shipping accidents or groundings. In addition, usual discharges from ships could have profound impacts on degrading these cold, pure waters.

Pacific Environment is working with the UN’s International Maritime Organization to minimize the negative environmental and social impacts of increased Arctic shipping.

Pacific Environment has a special consultative status with the United Nations’ body, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is now writing new shipping regulations for these polar waters. Oddly enough, there are no indigenous groups represented at the IMOeven though indigenous peoples will be most affected by these rules.

Generally, the IMO is hounded by a bevy of industry representatives in an effort to weaken environmental regulation of the shipping industry.  At Pacific Environment, our role is to stand up to these special interests to protect the food security of people who depend on a healthy environment. Toward this end, this coming month, we will be bringing together indigenous leaders from Alaska and Russia to discuss ways to minimize the risks of increased shipping so as to protect food sources.

All in all, these big issues of climate change, shipping regulations, and food security involve not only environmental protection but also human rights. In the Arctic, it’s difficult to separate people and the environment. They are one and the same.

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Climate Change, Communities, Fisheries, Marine, Oceans, Policy, Water | Comments Off

Halting U.S. Financing for Coal Abroad


This summer was big for our efforts to halt public financing for fossil fuel projects. In June, President Obama launched a Climate Action Plan that calls for a partial ban on U.S. Government financing for coal plants abroad, except in limited circumstances. The ban includes U.S. taxpayer-backed financing for coal plants through federal agencies such as Export-Import Bank. Soon after the U.S. took a stand against the funding of international coal plants, the World Bank and European Investment Bank followed suit by also ending financing for coal plants except in limited circumstances.

In July, the Export-Import Bank denied financing for a heavily polluting coal power plant in Vietnam.

Finally, in August, Pacific Environment joined six other environmental groups in a lawsuit against the Export-Import Bank’s financing of coal exports from Appalachia. Exporting coal is a practice that causes severe damage to the environment and to human health.

The U.S. curb on financing for coal plants abroad and the aforementioned lawsuit are important milestones for Pacific Environment and the other environmental groups involved, and cause for celebration. For years we have fought shoulder to shoulder to end financing of harmful coal projects by the Export-Import Bank, including the agency’s $805 million in financing for the enormous Kusile coal power plant and mine in South Africa in 2011, and $917 in financing of the Sasan coal power plant and mine in India in 2010. Kusile and Sasan will emit a combined 56.9 million tons of CO2 per year into the atmosphere, while spewing local air pollution that will worsen health problems in local communities which, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, includes respiratory and cardiopulmonary disease and cancer deaths.  The 3,690 megawatt  Sasan and 4,800 Kusile coal power plants compare  to an average 500 megawatt coal plant in the U.S.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank gave $805 million to finance the enormous and hazardous Kusile coal power plant and mine in South Africa in 2011.

What’s more, according to World Resources Institute assessment, the World Bank and U.S. Export-Import Bank were respectively the second and fourth largest sources of public finance for coal projects abroad. Their commitment to end financing for coal plants abroad sends a ripple through the rest of the international public and private finance community.

But are the exceptions to the President’s ban big enough to drive a coal train through?  That remains an open question, because detailed implementation plans have not been completed. It is too bad that this remains an outstanding question—and a potential Achilles heel of these plans—since the exemptions aren’t necessary or feasible in the first place.

One of the exceptions is for coal plants that employ carbon capture and sequestration technologies (CCS).  CCS is an experimental technology intended to capture CO2 from coal and other heavy carbon-emitting projects and to inject it deep underground. As Greenpeace and others have shown, the extensive process to capture, transport, compress and inject CO2 can dramatically increase the price of a coal plant, making it uncompetitive with alternatives. In any case, CCS remains financially and technologically risky and unproven at scale, and thus cannot deliver significant CO2 reductions in time to play a role in the effort of keeping the global temperature increase below 2o Celsius.

A second exemption in the President’s ban is for situations in the world’s poorest countries in which the most efficient coal technology available is deployed and where no other economically feasible alternative exists. Yet, the International Energy Agency has found that due to the high cost of energy grid extension in poor countries, mini-grid and off-grid renewable energy solutions are now the most economically feasible means to bring energy to the majority of people that lack energy access. If the cheapest way to bring energy access to the world’s poorest people is with clean-distributed, renewable energy, why should poor countries pay more for polluting coal technologies?  What’s more, when other factors, including the harmful health impacts of coal combustion are factored in, coal power is still more expensive.

Due to the high cost of energy grid extension in poor countries, mini-grid and off-grid renewable energy solutions are now the cheapest way to bring energy to people who lack energy access.

The breadth of the President’s ban on financing for coal projects abroad remains in question as well.  For example, will it include ending financing for coal mining, transport, and export to coal plants?

Meanwhile, the President’s Climate Action Plan promotes expansion of greenhouse gas-emitting natural gas plants, and the Export-Import Bank continues to finance oil and gas plants abroad with abandon.  In recent years, this has included $3 billion in financing for the Papua New Guinea Liquid Natural Gas project which slashes pipelines through primary tropical forests and tribal communities, triggering deadly violence and fatal industrial accidents.  The Export-Import Bank is also financing two huge liquid natural gas plants being built inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This is the subject of a lawsuit against the agency by Pacific Environment, Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Nonetheless, in the world of environmental finance, the President’s partial ban on coal plants abroad represents a big shift in U.S. climate change policyone which recognizes that public financing for climate-damaging activities can, in fact, be stopped.

Here’s to hoping the fall brings even more victories than the summer.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Global, Liquefied Natural Gas, Natural Gas, Policy | Comments Off

What’s Up with China’s Air?


I hear that a lot these days from my friends in the U.S., along with expressions of concern for my health whenever I travel to China. It is nice to get sympathy for the job hazards I face, but then I have to remind these folks that people in China live with life-threatening air pollution every single day. It’s no wonder that friends in the U.S. are shocked at China’s environmental tragedy: stories about extreme air pollution, cancer villages, the coal boom, and skyrocketing numbers of cars are easy to find in major news outlets. But less easy to find are stories about the fact that people in China are not only paying attention, they are acting swiftly and decisively to change their fate and the fate of the planet.

Good Sign #1: Just before my recent trip to China, the central government announced it would formalize three key coal control areas, setting a goal of negative coal consumption growth by 2017 in and around Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta. This policy demonstrates the government’s concern over both “airpocalypse” conditions and the public unrest they inspired. Pushing heavy coal industries out of the most developed, cosmopolitan areas of China could have a big impact: some 43% of China’s coal is consumed in Beijing and surrounding provinces.

Time will tell if the strict regional air pollution control measures will have their intended effect. Local governments in these regions are bristling at the painful changes they will have to enforce in order to achieve negative coal consumption at a massive scale. And in the end, the measures just add to pollution problems in other, less wealthy parts of the country: cities like Hefei, Changsha, and Lanzhou. Citizens in these cities are also concerned about air quality, but having officials pay attention to their concerns is a lot harder than in more progressive and cosmopolitan cities. Take for example Shenzhen, whose city government banned a new coal plant in August. Thankfully, the environmental community in China is aware of this imbalance and working to help correct it.

Good Sign #2: Last week at China’s annual Charity Fair, I attended the opening ceremony for the Clean Air Alliance of China (CAAC) small grants program. Founded just eight months ago, CAAC will now provide funding to help local groups monitor air pollution and hold polluters and local governments accountable.

Hubei Green Canaan developed software that makes it much easier for grassroots activists to collect, share, and analyze air pollution data.

Hubei Green Canaan developed software that makes it much easier for grassroots activists to collect, share, and analyze air pollution data.

Yet local environmental leaders in China know that seeing measurable progress on air pollution and coal in China will take a lot more time and resources than a one-year small grant program can provide. For the past year, Pacific Environment has been reviewing lessons learned from our successful water pollution work to design a new campaign that can achieve big wins on air pollution and coal. We want to ensure local environmental groups in China have the resources and skills they need to address the worst air pollution offenders in their communities, in ways that will also shift the national debate around air quality, coal, and citizen’s basic rights to a clean environment.

At Pacific Environment’s annual China partners meeting earlier in September, environmental leaders from across China discussed what grassroots groups can do about coal. They agreed resoundingly, “We have to get more people involved. We have to do environmental education.” It’s clear that when enough people get upset about the toxics they are breathing, China’s government leaders will take action. However, in the some parts of China, local environmental groups are the best hope for millions of people to channel their frustration about inhaling toxic fumes every day into positive environmental and societal change.


Posted in China, Civil Society, Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Grassroots Activism, Policy, Sustainable Development, Water | Comments Off

You Spoke Up and the U.S. Coast Guard is Listening


Earlier this year, Pacific Environment exposed how the U.S. delegation to the U.N. agency overseeing the creation of new international shipping rules in Arctic waters led the charge for shockingly weak environmental protections.

Headed by the U.S. Coast Guard, our representatives at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) strongly opposed Canada and Russia’s proposal to prohibit ships from dumping waste in Arctic waters. They claimed that a zero discharge policy was impractical—even though the world’s two largest Arctic nation states, Canada and Russia, are already implementing a total ban on waste dumping.

In response, Pacific Environment called on our supporters to email Admiral Papp, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Thousands of people responded to our call to action and urged him and his agency to support strong environmental shipping regulations in the Arctic. This uproar got the U.S. Coast Guard’s attention—and led to some real-world changes:


  • At the most recent IMO meeting, the U.S. delegation supported a ban on dumping water contaminated with oil into the ocean. This is an important win.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard took a much more positive stance on several key environmental rules that will affect the well-being of Arctic marine wildlife and coastal communities.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard reached out to Pacific Environment and said that it will ask for advice on environmental regulations from us and our allies well in advance of future IMO meetings.


As you can see, your support has been instrumental, and together we’ve achieved some real wins, but much work remains to be done.

Right now another threat to Arctic wildlife and communities is the discharge of toxic cleaning chemicals. Ships need to regularly clean their cargo containers. Usually this is done in port by professional cleaning companies that have to properly dispose of the toxic cleaning residue.

But we recently learned that some shippers are cleaning their containers offshore and are dumping these dangerous cleaning chemicals in the ocean—to save money and increase profits.

One of these dangerous chemicals is polyisobutene (PIB). This past spring, the BBC reported that a PIB spill killed or injured nearly 3,000 birds off the southwest coast of England in one of the country’s worst marine pollution incidents.

Birds PIB

Nearly 3,000 birds have been killed or injured by the chemical polyisobutene (PIB) in England this year.

PIB is not yet classified as a highly dangerous chemical, even though it kills birds and other wildlife on contact; ships can just dump water contaminated with this toxic cleaning chemical into the ocean. That’s why we’re calling on the IMO to ban the discharge of this deadly chemical.

We’re already talking to the U.S. Coast Guard to get their support on this issue, and now we’re reaching out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), another key player in the U.S. delegation to the IMO. But we need your help. Join us and urge Kathy Sullivan, Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to support a ban on the discharge of water contaminated with the dangerous chemical polyisobutene.

Thank you for speaking up and helping us make a difference at the IMO. Together we can turn the tide for the Arctic!


Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Climate Change, Communities, Marine, Oceans | Comments Off