Leadership from Below: Climate Coalitions State Intentions in Bonn and Make Demands in Denver

Decision-making in economic and political systems tends to flow from purpose-built leadership positions. Large, unwieldy organizational systems typically endow key leaders, be they CEOs, senior appointees, or committee chairs, with the authority, the resources, and the messaging microphone required to steer the organization with relative ease. However, there are times when the entire organizational system requires an overhaul, and these times often demand that those outside of natural leadership positions take the wheel. Sometimes, when an entrenched organizational scheme requires top-to-bottom overhaul, rather than gentle guidance, those intended to lead must themselves be led. The world of energy finds itself in one such moment today, as seen at both the state and international levels.

Last week international leaders met at COP23, the second “conference of the parties” since the signing of the Paris Agreement. They were meeting to discuss what global climate policy will look like both before and after 2020, when the Agreement officially goes into effect. President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier this year that he plans to withdraw the United States from the Agreement set the tone of the discussions for the official US delegation. The message coming from the intended leaders was that the United States is drawing back from international climate obligations.

However, they were not the only Americans present in Bonn. An unofficial delegation of citizens traveled to the conference, also to represent the United States and to deliver a simple message to the rest of the world: we are still in.

Acitvists gather in Bonn ahead of COP23 summit

This second delegation delivered the America’s Pledge Phase 1 report, detailing the efforts of committed citizens to uphold the standards agreed to in Paris in 2015, in spite of the federal government’s withdrawal. This comprehensive report discusses the success of the U.S. Climate Alliance (of which Colorado is a member and CEA is a proud supporter) and other coalitions that are dedicated to picking up the banner of climate action where the Trump administration has let it fall. This We Are Still In delegation, collectively representing more than half of America’s economy, detailed the steps they have taken to begin working from the bottom up to achieve the 2025 U.S. emissions outcomes asked for by the Paris Accords, and promised additional analysis in a Phase 2 report to be published in 2018. The members of this second delegation may have represented leaders within their respective organizations (mayors, governors, CEOs, board presidents and others), but when it comes to expressing the intentions of the American people as a whole, they are now required to lead from the outside.

As US climate leaders declared their intentions in Bonn, a smaller group of local activists met in Denver to deliver a petition to Xcel Energy at their local headquarters, asking the utility to take the next step towards the post-fossil fuel world.  This group was led by 350 Colorado and the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, which represents Clean Energy Action and 22 community, faith, and environmental organizations from around Colorado. Our requests included

  • the closure of all Xcel coal plants by 2030
  • the closure of all fracking gas plants by 2035
  • a commitment to convert to at least 80% renewable sources of electricity by 2030
  • completion of a study by the end of 2018 that explores how to achieve 100% renewable electricity in Colorado by 2030
Micah Parkin delivers the petition to Xcel corporate HQ at 1800 Larimer Streeet

The CCLC represents more than 100,00 Coloradans, and speaks to the expressed desires of many more. This petition represents the work of climate warriors across the state who believe that now is the time for Xcel to end their lifelong reliance on coal and natural gas. “Xcel Energy has a great opportunity to move away from fossil fuels and provide customers with the affordable, clean energy they’re demanding,” said Kevin Cross, a member of the Fort Collins Sustainability Group and a leader of CCLC. As American leaders announce our renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement in Germany, there is no better time for our electric utility to step up its commitment to providing cleaner, cheaper energy for our state.

These petitioners may represent many of Xcel’s ratepayers and workers, but they do not hold the reins of Colorado’s grid infrastructure. The petitioners are not the PUC commissioners, corporate officers, or shareholder representatives; they are not the intended guardians of the state’s power grid. Nonetheless, the failure of the intended leadership to responsibly weigh the consequences of our collective decisions requires us, like the representatives of the We Are Still In delegation, to lead from without.

On the same day, separated by an ocean and thousands of miles, two coalitions delivered two statements to which Clean Energy Action was a party. We recently asked our supporters to sign a petition to Governor Hickenlooper to bring Colorado into the US Climate Alliance, and we see the effects of those signatures in Bonn where Colorado is one of nine states fully committed to the coalition. More recently we asked our supporters to affix their names to the CCLC’s petition to Xcel, and our voices were heard loud and clear in Denver last week demanding a greener, more efficient future.  Both efforts demonstrate that it is not only possible to exercise leadership from outside traditional positions of power, but sometimes it is necessary.

We thank the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, the We Are Still Coalition, and the US Climate Alliance, but most of all we thank all of you who provide the citizen power that carries us forward.

For further reading, check out the articles by Climate Action and the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate.

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