The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development received a little surprise visit this week from 16 000 voices against coal.

by Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

During this week’s consultation meetings in Istanbul, Belgrade and Moscow, the EBRD is discussing its new energy lending strategy with NGOs from its countries of operation. As a contribution to the debate and to amplify the resounding call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, environmental activists are bringing more than 16 000 people with them – in spirit at least.

These 16 725 signatories of two petitions by and Oil Change International have called on the EBRD to stop financing coal power plants. The demand to end coal subsidies and for a #coalfreeEBRD is increasing. They also confirm that after the US government, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have strictly limited support for coal, all eyes are now on the EBRD.

A change of course is needed at the EBRD in order to follow the World Bank and the European Investment Bank away from coal. Between 2006-2011, the EBRD spent 10 percent of its energy portfolio on coal, compared to just 11 percent for renewables (excluding large hydro (3%)). But the draft text of its new strategy (pdf) – the basis for discussion during this week’s meetings – proposes weak criteria that would only slightly reduce coal investments, while opening the door to investments in oil and gas, including shale (pdf).

During the first consultation meeting on Monday, Turkish NGOs complained that the draft strategy would allow for financing 50 coal plants in Turkey alone. EBRD representatives committed to check the language of the draft and remained on the defensive. During today’s second meeting in Belgrade, campaigners demonstrated with a banner reminding the bank of the health impacts of this dirty fossil fuel. They then passed the petition to the EBRD’s country director for Serbia Matteo Patrone.

Comments on the draft energy strategy can be submitted until September 30. After that, decision-makers from shareholding countries will have to agree on crucial improvements to the strategy. It remains to be seen if this week’s consultations will have a real impact on the final outcomes of the policy and whether the bank’s shareholders are willing to listen to people who speak up for the environment, public health and the climate.

Lessons from the European Investment Bank’s energy policy review show that public pressure can help tighten restrictions for coal. Until the final document has been adopted by the EBRD’s board of directors, we need to remind the bank that we no longer accept public money being poured into projects that pollute our air, contaminate our water, and endanger our climate. There is no sustainable alternative other than a #coalfreeEBRD.

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