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Oak’s Environment Programme’s new five-year strategy: Energy

Environment Programme / Programme news / Energy

Nathan Argent takes a long, deep breath when asked if his decades-long work to end the age of fossil fuels has brought us closer to safeguarding our future on this planet.  “Oh we’re winning, no question. We’re just not winning fast enough. But that’s where the lessons of the past are incredibly useful as building blocks for this new approach.” Nathan is the Head of the Climate Programme at Oak. We spoke to him as part of this four-part series on Oak’s new five-year strategy. 

What humanity does in the next decade will determine whether our vision for a cleaner and safer future will become a reality. In March 2021, the efforts of a Europe-wide movement to halt coal production reached a milestone. French utility EDF announced the closure of the West Burton coal-fueled power plant in the north of England – one of only two coal-fired plants remaining in Britain. Half of Europe’s 324 coal-fueled power plants have now either closed or announced a retirement date before the end of this decade. Nathan Argent credits this victory to the alliance of civil society organisations across 27 European Union nations, the United Kingdom, the Western Balkans, and Turkey working to phase-out coal as part of the Europe Beyond Coal campaign.

According to Nathan, “the diversity of the campaign is its strength. Each group has a particular focus, be it finance, local community or national campaigning, strategic litigation, or strategic communications. Getting those strengths all working together is the major success story of the campaign.”

It wasn’t always so. Well-intentioned attempts to spark opposition to coal in the 80s and 90s often backfired when funders and organisations failed to fully consider the impact of these closures on communities for whom this industry was their cultural and economic lifeline. And, when environmentalism ignores the needs of the people, it’s inevitable that the people push back. “That is why we believe that it is so important to start with people at the centre of everything, and why justice and equity must be the outcomes of our climate strategies,” says Nathan.

“What’s exciting about the advances we’ve made in the coal campaign is how success builds power, which strengthens the movement’s muscle used as a model for so many of our other struggles, including Europe’s transition away from oil and gas, to end offshore exploration, and to rapidly reduce pollution from aviation.”

Alongside work to preserve endangered species in Africa and support local and Indigenous fisheries in the Pacific, the coal work in Europe was one more example that brought home the importance of  co-creating with the local movement leaders and local communities most impacted by change, a concept now solidly embedded in the new strategy.

Beyond energy work in Europe, our strategy also supports efforts to eliminate the mountains of unnecessary single-use plastic products, and reduce demand for virgin plastic.

Oak’s contributions to the founding of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement reinforced a number of lessons that put re-granting organisations close to the action, and helped chart a common path forward among a diverse range of aligned objectives. The movement today represents more than 11,000 groups and individuals united by a common strategy, whether their opposition to plastic waste is anchored in ocean health, climate concerns, air and groundwater pollution issues, or environmental justice for victims of plastic production and disposal.

“One of things I’m most excited about is the possibility of pulling together the multiple threads of our systems work to create a rich tapestry of action and impact,” says Nathan. “For example, “Our grantee partners that work on food in China have energy goals built into their work. Our support for the GoalBlue and Blue Map App projects contributed to ocean health as well as reducing climate pollution, creating cleaner skies and rivers, and improving human health and wellbeing.”

“Our focus now is to identify and wrench these powerful levers of change to shift the financial investment and the political economies that must deliver action. We will co-power people–led movements to deliver the pressure and accountability needed to break through the barriers laid before us by the incumbent fossil fuel industry and unlock the solutions needed to safeguard  our children’s future. It is the only way we will spark the unstoppable clean energy revolution that will allow our communities to thrive in a more prosperous, healthier, and inclusive way.”