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Chapter 1 introduces the book’s main theme, namely the growing global contest over the future of coal. Three main aspects are identified – the changing world-historical status of coal as the fuel of development, the shifting significance of the coal commodity in economic growth, and its impact as a central driver of climate change and ecological exhaustion. Government-led development ideology remains closely bound up with the extraction of coal as a source of energy security, yet is increasingly exposed and contested. Increased populist rejection of climate policy in the name of fossil fuel reliance reflects the growing intensity of this contest. Pro-coal political forces gain most traction where they are most threatened, in high-income coal-producing countries such as in the US, Canada and Australia, as well as in the EU. In newly industrialising contexts with lower emissions targets, such as in India, coal is challenged by new low-cost renewable energy, and by immediate health imperatives.
Chapter 8 develops a series of comparative themes from the experience of coal and climate change in India, Australia and Germany. In each country, we find that coal’s legitimacy crisis has created sharp contradictions in wider society, as well as within state institutions, and that local contests over new mines are rapidly undermining the social value of coal. Coal’s value to ‘development’ reflects its cultural narration as a valuable commodity and source of energy and in concluding we chart the way these narratives are contested, and are changing. In particular the chapter shows how anti-coal groups have gained strategic traction in the context of growing contradictions in national climate and energy policy. In this we return to the book’s initial provocation, expressed in the coal conundrum of increased coal extraction coupled with climate instability, arguing the conundrum is on the way to being resolved, for a post-coal future.
Chapter 4 focusses on proposed brown coal mines for Lusatia, a region of Eastern Germany on the Polish border. The mines aimed to extend existing concessions, supplying coal for the nearby power generators. They were owned by the Swedish state-owned corporation Vattenfall, which sold them to a Czech conglomerate in 2016. The developmentalist argument for the mining is addressed first, especially in terms of its strategic value for German ‘energy security’. We examine the debates about coal’s economic necessity as a ‘transition fuel’ in Germany’s Energiewende, and its environmental or climate impacts. These themes are then developed in analysing the governance framework for the mine approval and opposition to it. The chapter shows how local opponents mobilise established conceptions of home or ‘heimat’ against the mining. These scripts, centred on local values of belonging in place, are integrated with concerns about impacts on livelihood and environment, and with concerns about climate change. The direct contradiction between Germany’s post-industrial ‘green economy’ and its determination to expand emissions-intensive brown coal is particularly powerful, not least as it destabilises technocratic authority.
Chapter 7 takes the historical analysis into the present day and charts a significant unravelling in the coal-industrial complex. Investor uncertainty about the future viability of energy installations has shifted into a dramatic (and long-awaited) process of capital flight from coal to renewables. Perhaps most revealing, the coal sector itself has begun hedging its losses by investing in renewables. The chapter discusses the reasons for this shift. The Paris Agreement’s 2050 deadline for ‘net-zero carbon’, which, at the time of writing in 2019, was well within the investor horizon for coal-fired power plants, has imposed a growing perception of risk associated with coal facilities. It has also precipitated an unexpected realignment of low-income economies to seek new industrial strategies linked to the renewables sectors, creating a new state-renewables nexus to rival coal.
The Introduction to the book defines coal as a key driver of climate change and outlines the urgent need for a global transition to renewable energy. It discusses the approach taken in the book, of comparing how new coal mines are contested, and justifies the focus on India, Australia and Germany. It outlines the book's research questions, its inter-disciplinary method and its chapter-by-chapter structure.
Chapter 2 investigates the proposal for a new thermal coal mine in Chhattisgarh, Central India. The proposed mine is located in an emerging coal-mining region that feeds power stations mainly for industry. The mine would destroy forested lands and displace a large number of villages populated by Indian indigenous Adivasi people. The proponent for the mine, Adani, is a major privately owned industrial conglomerate seeking the coal to fuel its industrial concerns. The national government strongly favours expanded coal extraction, and the mine forms part of its privatization effort, designed to stimulate the sector. Within civil society there is strong village-level opposition to the mine, with concerns centred on land and livelihood. Alliances of villages opposing the mine find allies at the regional level and are able to disrupt regional politics; they also are able to make legal claims at the national level, and link with national and international environmental NGOs. Arguments for sustainable energy gain momentum especially when there are viable renewable alternatives. The struggle is skewed by coercion, with anti-mine campaigners subjected to surveillance and arbitrary detention by Indian state security.
Chapter 6 investigates the contradiction between expanded coal use and the climate policy regimes that emerged after the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol. During this period coal mines and coal-fired power remained ‘locked in’ as the key foundation for energy security, and for economic growth. Struggles over climate policy in support of renewable energy did secure some changes, especially in Germany, but overall there was a steep increase in aggregate emissions from the coal sector. During this period, ‘business as usual’ entrenched the primacy of coal: international agencies such as the IEA predicted that climate policy would fail and coal would remain dominant. Yet coal was now in direct collision with climate stability, and this was profoundly disruptive of coal’s hegemony.
Chapter 5 charts the post-1945 history of energy policy in India, Australia and Germany, focussing on the strengthened state-corporate ‘coal-industrial complex’. All three, in their different ways, highlight the centrality of national development models in conditioning outcomes. The present-day dynamics, in the face of climate change, reflect historically sedimented tendencies. Across the three countries coal-centred fossil fuel developmentalism became deeply entrenched in the aftermath of the Second World War. The national state was a key agent in this process, which saw coal maintain and extend its role in power generation. The task of capitalising coal reserves, as a critical asset for economic development and energy security, was taken up by a range of newly formed state agencies. The state-led push for coal was later was accelerated by the 1970s’ Oil Crisis, which again positioned coal as the fossil fuel of choice into the 1980s. The neoliberal revolution from the 1980s brought more transformations, privatizing an already highly concentrated and entrenched industry, strengthening its influence over climate policy. The chapter outlines these shared themes at the global and national state level that entrenched a relatively durable ‘coal-industrial complex’ in each of the three countries.
Chapter 3 is focusses on a new ‘greenfield’ coal mine in Australia proposed by the world’s largest mining company, the China-based Shenhua corporation. The new coal mine is to be situated on highly productive agricultural land in the Liverpool Plains in NSW. Local opposition is grounded in the landowning classes and Indigenous people who are the Traditional Owners of the land. The developmental myths of both agricultural reliance and sovereign nationhood are challenged by the mine’s approval, disrupting established political alliances. The resulting conflicts are played out in the regulatory process, undermining existing structures and forcing new frameworks into place, from local to national contexts. The case dramatically exposes what is at stake when coal extraction is reconfigured in various ways as a threat to established livelihoods and Indigenous rights, as well as a threat to local environments and to climate stability. Again, we find the deep contradictions of coal extraction brought to the surface, creating new territories of contestation and potential for transformation.
Climate change makes fossil fuels unburnable, yet global coal production has almost doubled over the last 20 years. This book explores how the world can stop mining coal - the most prolific source of greenhouse gas emissions. It documents efforts at halting coal production, focusing specifically on how campaigners are trying to stop coal mining in India, Germany, and Australia. Through in-depth comparative ethnography, it shows how local people are fighting to save their homes, livelihoods, and environments, creating new constituencies and alliances for the transition from fossil fuels. The book relates these struggles to conflicts between global climate policy and the national coal-industrial complex. With coal's meaning transformed from an important asset to a threat, and the coal industry declining, it charts reasons for continuing coal dependence, and how this can be overcome. It will provide a source of inspiration for energy transition for researchers in environment, sustainability, and politics, as well as policymakers.