In 2017, the citizens of Munich decided that the local coal power plant should be taken off the grid in 2022. From 2020 onwards, this power plant will be operating at reduced capacity, using less than half of the usual amount of coal each year, thanks to the direct democracy campaign, ‘Stop the use of hard coal’. The campaign, Klimawende von unten (‘Climate Politics from below’), is also supporting local initiatives to shut down coal power plants earlier than planned. With direct democracy, the campaign aims at bringing about resolutions in municipal parliaments directly instead of only appealing to politicians to hear and implement its demands.
There are several other initiatives like the one in Munich already under way. In Kassel, the local climate justice group is running a direct democracy campaign to shut down “their” municipal coal power plant in 2023. It made an impact almost straight away. On the day of the first Kassel coal-free information event, the municipal utility (a utility provider run by the local government) announced that it would like to stop burning coal in 2028 instead of 2030, as formerly planned. Of course, Kassel coal-free did not accept this offer and will keep pushing for it to be shut down earlier.
Another campaign which could be used as a model for many more cities is Klimawende Köln, started in 2019. Activists in Cologne are demanding that their municipal utility switches to only selling electricity and heating energy from renewable sources by 2030 at the latest. This implies that the municipal coal power plant would be shut down within the next five years and that also the gas power plants will be taken off the grid or switched to renewable energy within the next ten years. If enough citizens of Cologne put their signature to these demands on the petition for a referendum, and then vote for them, the city parliament must enforce the demands with the energy company Rheinenergie, over which it has majority ownership. Climate activists in every city that holds a majority of the local energy utility can use the same approach for a direct democracy campaign.
‘Klimawende von unten‘ was started by Umweltinstitut München, ‘Mehr Demokratie’ and ‘BürgerBegehren Klimaschutz’. A guidance manual which includes recommendations based on the experience of local groups, as well as a map of Germany with descriptions of all existing and potential local campaigns can be found on the website. If you would like to start a local campaign and need advice, please write an email to fb[at]umweltinstitut.org.