The University of Nottingham and six other organisations have been removed from the website of European coal lobby group Euracoal following a META investigation into its membership.

Euracoal, which describes itself as “the voice of coal in Europe”, is currently suing the European Commission over rules that could prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year by cutting toxic pollution. Environmental groups have applied to intervene in the case to defend the new protections.

Following a series of freedom of information requests, the University of Nottingham finally confirmed in an email to META that it was a member of Euracoal, but that the relationship was “historical” and that they “found no evidence of an active membership”.

Days later the University and six other members were quietly removed from Euracoal’s website.

The majority of Euracoal’s membership represents owners of European coal and lignite plants and mines, including, through a complex network of umbrella groups, big companies like RWE, STEAG, PGE and Uniper. The coal plants owned by these four companies alone are responsible for a quarter of all the negative health impacts of coal power in Europe.

Students in Nottingham were shocked to learn of their University’s involvement with a lobby group that has spent years defending the interests of Europe’s dirtiest fuel and pushing for weaker controls on harmful pollution.

Cara Turton-Chambers, a Masters student who leads a campaign demanding the University of Nottingham divest from fossil fuels said:

“I’m absolutely horrified. I can’t really believe that the University was ever a member of this group. It doesn’t make any sense to teach students about the problems that climate change causes while being part of a group like this. It’s extremely hypocritical.”

The University of Nottingham’s sustainability policy promises to “support a community that contributes towards a socially responsible and sustainable global society”. A claim that Turton-Chambers says is fundamentally at odds with membership of a coal lobby organisation like Euracoal:

“Lobbying for coal undermines any attempt to be socially responsible. Coal is unethical in every way, shape and form.”

Turton-Chambers said that she hoped that the Unviersity’s relationship with Euracoal coming to light would add to the pressure on the institution to make a clear statement of intent by divesting from all fossil fuels. She said:

“The divest movement is going from strength to strength. It’s now just a matter of time until the University of Nottingham joins other institutions that have already pulled the plug on fossil fuels.”

Nottingham’s recently-appointed Vice Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, was previously Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, which divested during her time there. A petition calling on the University of Nottingham to follow suit has already gathered more than 1000 signatures from concerned students and staff.

The University did not respond when asked whether membership of Euracoal was compatible with the institution’s own sustainability policy.

Of the six other organisations that disappeared from Euracoal’s membership list this week, two others were public research institutions: the Institut Scientifique de Service Public, an agency of the Waloon government of southern Belgium, and the French government’s Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières. Neither organisation had responded to enquiries from META at the time of writing.

Euracoal Secretary-General Brian Ricketts told META that the membership list was updated following the organisation’s most recent annual meeting. He confirmed:

“Over the last year, we did indeed lose some smaller members from the UK, for example.  However, we also gained some significant new members from Poland.  These changes in membership reflect the shifting interests of our members – Brexit has certainly had an impact, as has the changing pattern of coal use in Western Europe.  Our members make certain commitments when they join EURACOAL, including a quite long notice period, as detailed in our Statutes.”

While the UK is set to leave the EU, its exit from coal was confirmed by former Prime Minister David Cameron during UN climate talks back in 2014.

 


The UK is now taking a lead internationally in diplomatic efforts to move countries beyond coal. As part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the UK is joined by other EU countries including France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and since last week, Ireland in promising to “accelerate clean growth and climate protection through the rapid phase-out of traditional coal power”.

 


Backed by the heavily-polluting German lignite industry, Euracoal has filed a case with the European courts in an attempt to stop updated limits for pollution from large power stations.

Sam Bright, a lawyer at environmental law group ClientEarth said Euracoal’s case was:

“…a shameless attempt to quash laws that aim to protect people. These laws underwent extensive review by governments and industry and were years late in being agreed – with people’s health and the climate being jeopardised all the while.”

The case concerns limits for mercury and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions from brown coal, also known as lignite. However, victory in the case for Euracoal could lead to updated limits for all large power stations being thrown out.

According to the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, harmful air pollution from coal is linked to around 20,000 premature deaths in the EU each year and almost half a million childhood asthma attacks.

Research has shown that all EU countries must phase out coal-fired power stations by 2030 in order to meet the commitments they have made in the Paris Climate Agreement.