As G7 leaders gather in Germany this weekend, Oxfam International was among the scores of groups and thousands of people in the street in protest on Saturday as they slammed the world's top industrialized nations for continuing to push energy and financial policies that are dooming the planet to climate misery and growing inequality while leading millions of people towards deeper hunger and food insecurity.
"[Coal-fired power stations] increasingly look like weapons of destruction aimed at those who suffer the impacts of changing rainfall patterns as well as of extreme weather events." —Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food
To bolster their critique of the G7, Oxfam has released a new report on the eve of summit—titled 'Let Them Eat Coal' (pdf)—describing the current situation in which the most development nations continue to burn coal, still the world's largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, at unsustainable rates and in a manner that is driving planetary destruction on a massive scale and pushing off investments in the solutions necessary to right humanity's course in the coming years and decades.
According to the report's summary, each existing or new coal power station in the world should be seen "as a weapon of climate destruction – fueling ruinous weather patterns, devastating harvests, driving food price rises and ultimately leaving more people facing hunger. With these climate impacts falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable and least food-secure people, the burning of coal is further exacerbating inequality. Without urgent action, climate change could put back the fight against hunger by several decades."
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Taken as a whole, Oxfam says that if G7 coal plants were a country, it would be the fifth biggest emitter in the world.
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Endorsing the report, Professor Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said: "Climate disruptions are already affecting many poor communities in the global South, and coal-fired power stations are contributing, every day, to make this worse. They increasingly look like weapons of destruction aimed at those who suffer the impacts of changing rainfall patterns as well as of extreme weather events."
Equally troubling to the geophysical and climate impacts of coal, warns Oxfam, is the long-term financial impact it is having—and will continue to have—for those in the developing world. With a focus on how the develop world's continued use of coal is negatively affecting the people of Africa, Oxfam says that businesses and governments represented by the G7—which includes the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan—are creating a situation in which the financial costs associated with the damage done by the ongoing mining and burning of coal far outweigh the aid and assistance money spent on rural development or agriculture across the African continent.
Using available and trusted climate and financial models, Oxfam estimates that coal emissions fueled by G7-sponsored or financed projects will be responsible for total climate change-related costs in Africa of approximately $43 billion per year by the 2080s and $84 billion per year by the end of the century. Those figures, says the international aid group, represent sixty times what G7 countries give Africa in agricultural and rural development aid and more than three times what G7 countries give Africa in total bilateral aid.
"The G7's coal habit is racking up costs for Africa and other developing regions," said Celine Charveriat, Oxfam International’s director of advocacy and campaigns. "It's time G7 leaders wake up to the hunger their own energy systems are causing to the world's poorest people on the frontline of climate change. The G7 leaders must stop using emissions growth in developing countries as an excuse for inaction and begin leading the world away from fossil fuels by starting with their own addiction to coal."
Invoking the next high-level round of UN climate talks in Paris later this year, Oxfam says the G7 nations must "lead the world in setting out clear plans for a just transition away from coal" and take responsibility for the damage already done.
"Ahead of a new climate deal due to be struck at the end of this year," said Charveria, "G7 leaders can give the global fight against climate change the momentum it needs by shifting away from coal. This will make significant additional cuts in their emissions, create jobs and be a major step towards a safer, sustainable and prosperous future for us all."
On Friday, members of the global climate justice movement cheered after the Norwegian Parliament voted approval for a measure that would see the nation's government pension fund—the largest of its kind in the world—begin to divest its holdings from the coal industry. Though only a start, said campaigners, this latest victory for divestment shows that a large-scale move away from fossil fuels continues to gain steam even as the coal, oil, and gas industries do everything in their power to retain the destructive—yet profitable—status quo.