How do you measure success? Many times, it’s difficult to point to one specific moment when a campaign delivers a big moment that demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that you've succeeded.
Well, our thanks go to E.ON for providing that moment for our coal campaign late last night – just as we were leaving the office, in fact. On my way to the pub, I met a press officer running back towards the front door – "E.ON have shelved Kingsnorth – just got to go and check if it's real, see you in a few…"
He never made it to the pub, because as the evening unfolded it became clear that E.ON were, indeed, after a three year public campaign, kicking their plans for the massively controversial coal plant into the long grass – which would have been the first to be built in Britain since Drax was completed more than 20 years ago.
When we checked with E.ON's European office, they emailed us to say:
"We can confirm that we expect to defer an investment decision on the Kingsnorth proposals for up to two to three years.
"This is based on the global recession, which has pushed back the need for new plant in the UK to around 2016 because of the reduction in demand for electricity."
So what does this mean? Well, there are a couple of key questions. The first one is: does a delay of two to three years mean that the Kingsnorth project is now effectively shelved? According to E.ON:
"We are not going to make a decision on whether to open it for two to three years and it would then take around four years to build."
So potentially we're looking at 2016 before any new plant would be completed, and that's a long way away. Reasons to be sceptical that E.ON will actually build the plant revolve around the rapidly changing dynamics of the energy sector, and an assessment of how difficult they've found it to build a new plant to date.
"The case for new coal is crumbling, with even E.ON now accepting it's not currently economic to build new plants." John Sauven, Director, Greenpeace UKAnd that gets into the second question: why the turnaround? E.ON are sticking to their party line that this is a consequence of the global recession, and that's certainly had its part to play. But it's worth remembering that two years ago today, when our activists closed down Kingsnorth power station, the company was indicating that they wanted to start construction work within weeks.
That was well before any economic downturn, and there's been constant pressure from a wide coalition of environmental and development campaigners, including all of us who've given support to The Big If and Give Coal the Boot campaigns. Obviously that pressure has had its effect.
So this is a massive breakthrough in the campaign against coal. As our executive director John Sauven has been telling the media this morning:
"This development is extremely good news for the climate and in a stroke significantly reduces the chances of an unabated Kingsnorth plant ever being built. The case for new coal is crumbling, with even E.ON now accepting it's not currently economic to build new plants. The huge diverse coalition of people who have campaigned against Kingsnorth because of the threat it posed to the climate should take heart that emissions from new coal are now even less likely in Britain."
The world's leading climate scientist, Professor Jim Hansen of Nasa, also welcomed the decision as a step in the right direction, but warned that real political leadership is needed to urgently reduce the use of coal - the single most harmful fossil fuel:
"The requirement is to phase out coal emissions, if we want to be fair to our children and grandchildren. We desperately need a nation to exert some leadership, adopting policies to move promptly in that direction. I still look on UK as being perhaps the best hope for leading a fundamental change.
"But as yet there seems to be no government, the US included, with the guts to say what is needed and move in that direction. Instead we hear goals for emissions reduction – what a fake – the coal must be left in the ground or we can never achieve the needed goals for atmospheric carbon dioxide."