This isn’t something I’ve heard much about from Greenpeace yet, presumably because it’s happening in their Swedish office, but there’s been an odd little story simmering away over the last month: Greenpeace have been debating whether or not to move into coal.
Swedish energy company Vattenfall AB is one of the first energy companies to make a move out of coal (more on that soon). In their efforts to refocus on renewable energy, they’ve announced plans to sell off their dirtiest assets, including coal mines and four coal power stations in Germany. Greenpeace would like to buy them, and then wind them up, obviously.
Greenpeace has a couple of points to make. First, we know that to protect the climate, coal needs to stay in the ground. Owning that coal may be the best way to make sure it never gets burnt. Second, the organisation is calling out the idea that countries can decarbonise without considering the emissions overseas that they are responsible for. Vattenfall is state owned, so the Swedish government can’t preach a green future without taking responsibility for its activities in Germany. Neighbouring Norway is a major culprit here too, being a leader in renewable energy and also an exporter or oil and gas.
So one might assume that Greenpeace throwing their hat in the ring is a way of raising some questions and getting attention, despite talk of crowdfunding the estimated $2-3 billion required. Still, they were serious enough to put in a genuine bid a couple of weeks later. It’s essentially an offer to take the coal assets off Vattenfall’s hands, more than anything else. They argue that if social and environmental costs are added, the mines and power stations cannot run at profit and are a liability. “The cost for society is many times higher than the profit any operator could make” says Annika Jacobson, head of Greenpeace Sweden.
Instead, Greenpeace would hold the mines in a dedicated trust, decommissioning the power stations and overseeing the closure and ecological restoration of the coal mining sites.
Will they win? Unlikely – those social and environmental costs don’t yet have to be paid by the owners of the assets, and there are a couple of other bidders. Germany’s coal mines barely break even and only persist because, to its shame, Germany continues to subsidise them. More importantly, they are a big source of employment, and Greenpeace’s rival bidders know they can play the ‘protecting jobs’ card.
At this stage I doubt we’ll get to see a Greenpeace owned coal mine any time soon – but it’s an interesting idea. There are charities like the World Land Trust who buy up tracts of forest in order to keep them safe. Owning an acre of rainforest is a more appealing prospect that owning a share of derelict mine, but there might be more takers than you think. Maybe its time for a similar move into fossil fuels.