Beyond Gas Conference 2019
Who, What & Why
In March 2019, members of the Beyond Gas community met in Brussels to share, connect and strategize together. This comes after Beyond Gas conferences in 2016 and 2017, and an online conference in 2018 organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and other NGOs. The Beyond Gas network brings together activists from around the world who fight the global push for new gas projects. As a way to hold onto their power, and capitalise from the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry is promoting gas as a climate solution. However, gas devastates communities and the climate, and new infrastructure will lock us in to decades more fossil fuel use and impede the just, renewable energy future we urgently need. Local groups and NGOs are mobilising at many points in the system; around extraction sites, transport (pipelines and liquified gas terminals), power plants, the banks that fund these projects, the policies that support them and the lobby groups that promote them.
An international group of people fighting gas from these various angles joined together to learn, connect, and develop joint activities that will enrich and leverage our local work. The participants spanned four continents, from South Africa, Tunisia, Sweden, Ireland, Croatia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Mexico, Argentina, and more. Past conferences have sparked ideas that developed into powerful joint activities, like the speaker`s tour last summer, and global coordinated actions against gas last autumn, the Gasdown-Frackdown. With interactive sessions we explored what we have achieved as a network, where we are now with our local campaigns, and what we could do next to strengthen the movement against gas.
Connecting our struggles in the Global North and South
Connecting such a wide geographical range of participants demonstrated the neo-colonial dynamics behind the global push for gas. For example, companies and investments from the Global North are often involved in corruption, displacement and human rights abuses in projects in the Global South. Colonial legacies between countries are perpetuated under the guise of ‘development’ and ‘investment,’ and our network’s connections are vital for holding these actors accountable in the North, where the headquarters of those companies are often based.
Similarities emerged, such as the arguments the gas industry uses; the narrative of gas as a transition fuel, and that it’s needed for energy security, is now widespread. From continent to continent we see corporate interest shifting from coal and oil to gas. A global network allows us to share experiences from countries that have been fighting this narrative for years to countries where this battle is relatively new. Moreover, we see all over the world that new gas projects are not about local energy needs, or the benefit of local people. Geopolitical pressure and corporate interest fuel them instead.
Clearly, there are huge differences in campaigning in the Global North and South, and the diverse range of participants and stories shared demonstrated this well. For one, activists in the Global South are much more likely to face repression and danger for their work and actions. This was especially pertinent with the recent death of Samir Flores, an indigenous activist fighting the PIM gas pipeline in Mexico, who was murdered outside his house days before a public consultation on the project. Tactics and strategies must vary with local context, and to build a strong global network we must be sensitive of our differences.
Updates From Campaigns
Over the two days, local activists, researchers and campaigners shared updates and insights from their campaigns.
The Fight Against LNG (liquified gas, which is transported on ships all over the globe)
Ciara Barry, from Not Here Not Anywhere, shared the recent victory against LNG in Ireland, where planning permission for one of the two terminals (Shannon LNG) planned has been escalated to the European court, which will cause a delay of likely 2 years to the (US) company’s plans. Despite this ruling, the European Commission and local MEPs are still supporting the project. The other terminal, in Cork, is much less far along, with no formal planning process yet. These terminals would create gas capacity twice Ireland’s consumption, and would function as an export hub for US fracked gas to travel to mainland Europe. Not Here Not Anywhere have been connecting with groups in the US along the fracked gas supply chain, arranging speaker tours and information events, and organizing actions locally.
In Croatia, we also see the the aggressive push of US gas, along with unwavering EU support. Maruska Mileta, from Zelena Akcija and the Krk anti LNG campaign, described the local situation and resistance. Both the planned Krk LNG project in Croatia and Shannon LNG are on the Projects of Common Interest, an EU mechanism giving them priority status, and both have little to do with local energy needs. The project, already downgraded to a floating LNG project in 2016 for lack of funds, still has not attracted private investment, and yet the EU and Croatian government pander to pressure from the US, pumping public money into the project
We also heard from Daniel Ribeiro from Justiça Ambiental about the fight against gas and LNG in Mozambique, where the 3rd largest gas reserves in Africa have been discovered. A huge LNG project with an overall cost of USD 25 billion is under construction. The project is riddled with corruption, and displacing thousands of people. Land grabbing is forcing fisherfolk to move inland where they won’t be able to fish, destroying livelihoods and communities. A long list of international actors are involved in the Mozambique LNG project, such as Italian, Dutch, Japanese, UK and US companies and banks are involved, as well as many others. The campaign is also internationally connected, with links to over 20 groups around the world in countries of various project stakeholders, to coordinate and connect.
We learnt about the proposed Eastmed pipeline from Palestinian and Israeli activists, respectively, Ashraf Taha from Pengon and Ya’ara Peretz from the environmental organisation Green Course. The Eastmed would carry gas from the Mediterranean sea between Israel and Cyprus to Italy, via Cyprus and Greece, arriving just 30km from the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) site in southern Italy. It would be the deepest and longest pipeline in the world. The EU is supporting this PCI list project, having already paid over €24 million for studies.
Chriszanne Van Vuuren from the Support Centre for Land Change discussed issues of land property and the extraction of natural resources in South Africa. Chriszanne explained that the legacy of colonialism created a very unequal agrarian structure which perpetuates poverty and racial divide in the country. Extractive activities like fracking further threaten the land, natural resources, livelihoods, and health of local communities, small-scale farmers and farm dwellers, who are often not informed or included in discussions. South Africans live with the threat of severe drought with many dams already dried up. Fracking, an extremely water intensive and dangerous process, further threatens water security.
We heard from Sigit Budiono, from KRuHA, about gas projects in Indonesia, a key gas hub in Asia. Almost 50% of the gas extracted is exported, though reserves are limited. In the next few years Indonesia is planning to become a key importer, dependent on other countries to keep it’s gas power plants running. A huge number of new projects have been built in the last years and are still planned, such as the Java-2 LNG terminal and power plant, which would displace communities, destroy livelihoods of fisherfolk and paddy rice farmers, threatening food security in the region.
Claudia Campero from Alianza Mexicana Contra el Fracking, explained to us the ridiculous situation where the main share of gas in the country is used by Pemex, the national oil and gas corporation, for its own exploration and extraction. Over 8000 wells have been drilled in Mexico already, and (weak) regulations were put in place only after fracking had already started. Mexico is also importing a huge amount of gas from the US, over half of US exports. Land grabs are common, and the government is pushing hard to keep extracting. It remains to be seen whether the new president Andres Manuel López Obrador´s announcement to ban fracking will be implemented.
The energy system & connected industries
We learnt about how the gas industry powers cheap plastic production via huge petrochemical companies from Delphine Lévi Alvares, of the Rethink Plastic Alliance.
The plastics industry has reaped under-the-radar benefits from the environmentally destructive fracking boom in recent years, as a component of gas (ethane) can be turned into plastic. Delphine discussed the work of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic (BFFP) movement to reveal these links and connect a wide coalition of activists from different sectors to fight these petrochemical giants.
Another huge consumer of gas is the transport industry, and Carlos Calvo Ambel, from Transport & Environment, busted the many myths the industry uses. Vehicles running on compressed and liquid gas deliver, in most cases, no GHG savings when you look at the entire production chain (factoring in everything from the gas well to the vehicle on the road). In some cases, they are even worse than existing vehicles. When reductions are delivered, they are marginal, so they cannot contribute to any major extent. With air quality, the benefits are also marginal, so really is no justifiable public support for gas in transport.
We were inspired to think more widely about the alternative energy future we’re fighting for by Lavinia Steinfort, from the Transnational Institute (TNI). We discussed the democratization of energy systems and energy policy, and learnt about examples around the world of communities taking control of their energy. Envisioning and exploring what climate justice can mean in practise, in terms of the production, distribution, use and regulation of energy, enriched and energised us.
Updates from Brussels
Around the world, there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest with the fossil fuel lobby’s hold on politics. A coalition of NGOs is coordinating a campaign to expel fossil fuel lobby groups from the negotiating table at the national, EU and UN level, explained Frida Kieninger of Food and Water Europe and Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory. A set of demands to break down the corporate influence via events, meetings, revolving doors and so on has been established as first step, and Exxon’s lobbying and climate change denial at the EU level has been targeted through a campaign calling for a removal of their lobby badges.
Colin Roche from Friends of the Earth Europe and Anna Roggenbuck from Bankwatch presented the Fossil Free EIB campaign. The EIB (European Investment Bank) is the largest lender in the world, and is pumping billions of euros of public money into new fossil fuel projects. The campaign brings together many civil society organisations, using the opportunity of the EIB's energy lending policy review to stop the lending to all fossil fuel projects, including gas projects such as pipelines and LNG terminals. The decision on the new policy is due to take place in the Summer of early Autumn of 2019.
After reflecting on our joint activities, our campaigns, and our needs, we concluded with the following workstreams moving forward:
1. Identity of the Beyond Gas Network
The questions of how we define ourselves as the Beyond Gas network, how we should be structured, and how to keep up with growing membership emerged. The questions of how to be truly global, as well as the idea for regional Beyond Gas meetings and a sort of network secretariat to coordinate common activities were raised. We decided to set up a website, rules for the email list, and pin down what we offer; amplification of each other's work, a space (virtual and physical) to connect, webinars, and so on. This conversation will be carried forward.
To respond to the increasing repression of activists around the world and especially in the Global South we encourage activists to join a recently set up rapid response network (on telegram online messaging platform), and the Stop Corporate Impunity campaign. We also resolved to research and target key gas companies and expose their involvement in the repression of resistors.
We discussed the potential of fundraising as a network, to bring money into the movement against gas so we can scale up. Fundraising as a network will require a more solid identity as a network, so the fundraising work will closely follow the discussions on the identity of the network.
4. Debunking myths
There was enthusiasm to coordinate our resources and materials more. This would involve an online platform to collect resources we already have, creating a Frequently Asked Questions document to pool our knowledge and answer key questions in accessible language, and creating new materials together.
5. Storytelling and Mapping
The need emerged to better map out the movement against gas and share each other’s stories. We will have a space to share storytelling work in the online platform discussed above, and map out the different groups in our network. The idea of another speakers’ tour was on the table but no group is keen to take it forward at this point.
With more and more LNG terminals planned and local campaigns in resistance, we recognize the value of coordinate work against LNG, and are encouraged to join the newly formed Goodbye LNG email list (email naomi(at)gastivists(dot)org to be added), which will host bi-monthly calls. This network was formed after a meeting organized by the Gastivist Collective a few months ago, following an informal meeting of anti LNG campaigners where we discussed joint activities that would strengthen our campaigns, such as workshopping narratives and organizing webinars. We also discussed organizing an action (whether in person or virtual) to target a 2 May high level EU-US meeting in Brussels about fracked gas imports to Europe.
Discussions evaluating last year’s global coordinated action against gas brought various proposals about what to do next with the format. This could be anything from an online exchange for activists to scaled down coordinated actions around one or two international supply chains. We had an enriching and inspiring discussion, which we will follow up with online to take decisions about what we will do with the Gasdown Frackdown format and identity.
The need to articulate the just energy future we are fighting for was a common theme, and to develop this we will have a session dedicated to this at the virtual gas conference we hope to organize in the Autumn. We are also warmly invited to join the mailing list of the international energy democracy alliance [available in English and Spanish], a collaborative open knowledge platform that includes real world examples of energy democracy, analyses and developments that advance the struggle for a just transition towards energy democracy.
The value of bringing together groups already working on the just transition with the gas industry, and reaching out to groups specifically working on human rights and environmental defenders, was recognized. The existing work with trade unions will be shared in the network and revisited.
The final workstream will focus on the finance of the gas industry. It will connect with groups who target the financing of fossil projects more broadly, and identify and target key financers behind gas projects.Here again the role of this international network will be essential in disentangling the role and action of different financial and political actors. The goal is to demonstrate that energy infrastructures are now seen as fruitful financial, but in fact public money is being used to maximise profit for banks and corporations, while setting us up for stranded assets.
What’s next for Beyond Gas?
A month after the conference, the work streams are in the process of being set up. Any member of the network is very welcome to reach out to join any of the workstreams and emails lists that are mentioned.
We hope to organize a virtual conference in about 6 months’ time, and enthusiasm was shown for another in-person Beyond Gas conference next year.
Overall, it is clear that the global movement against gas has many huge strides in the last three years. We are connected across continents, have organized strategic common activities to leverage local work, and are building a movement that makes space for our different contexts. We have grown in numbers, geographical range, and expertise. We are at a pivotal point now where we recognize our structure has to evolve to keep serving the network well. Ideas came up to have regional beyond gas networks, and to formalise coordination. These conversations will continue, and the future structure will determine the the form of the next Beyond Gas conference. At this exciting period we are encouraged to imagine and explore what kind of structure facilitates a growing movement, and there is little doubt we will continue going from strength to strength.
To join the Beyond Gas email list and find out more about the network, contact achouche.nessim(at)rosalux(dot)org.
Report written by Naomi Kreitman (Gastivists Collective)