Divestment from fossil fuels

Opinion – 350 Aotearoa

A climate change skeptic has been appointed head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Australian government has made the development of so-called clean coal a priority, despite coal dust contaminating sensitive Queensland wetlands …DIVESTMENT FROM FOSSIL FUELS: GETTING MONEY OUT OF THE GROUND AND INTO THE FUTURE

A climate change skeptic has been appointed head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Australian government has made the development of so-called ‘clean coal’ a priority, despite coal dust contaminating sensitive Queensland wetlands just last month. An increasing number of our waterways in New Zealand are unswimmable and undrinkable, while our famed glaciers retreat year on year.

It feels like we’re gambling dangerously with our own habitat, and the odds are stacked heavily stacked against us.

But, there are wins to be had. At 350 Aotearoa we have joined a global alliance calling on universities, banks, churches and cities to divest their money from fossil fuels, and we are gaining ground.

Currently, there are trillions of dollars tied up in the expectation of burning the world’s hydrocarbon stores. That expectation just doesn’t make sense when you look at the science.

A recent study by scientists at University College London has shown that a huge amount of the global reserves of fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground if we are to have any hope of limiting global warming to the 2°C above pre-industrial levels that New Zealand has signed onto as part of the Paris Agreement.

Coal is the biggest carbon culprit. It is estimated that 82% of global reserves need to be kept in the ground to maintain the 2°C limit. This figure has profound and urgent geopolitical and economic implications for both countries and major companies that are reliant on fossil fuel wealth. Access to efficient and affordable energy has become a powerful political tool, and countries with significant reserves – like Australia – have a vested interest in maintaining a competitive advantage through the exploitation of coal.

Divestment as a tactic recognises those implications, and has an impact on how we think and talk about climate change. It is not just about what we can stop, but what we can achieve.

By challenging the cultural acceptance of fossil fuels, divestment undermines the fossil fuel industry’s social license to operate as per the status quo. At the same time, it encourages governments and fossil fuel companies to look to alternatives that have longer-term viability, like renewables.

Already we have had resounding successes. Globally, almost 700 institutions – representing funds worth over $5 trillion – have made a divestment commitment.

Here in New Zealand, we have achieved divestment commitments from institutions including the City of Dunedin, Auckland Council, Christchurch Council, the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington, the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa.

Just a few weeks ago, following months of campaigning from 350 here and in Australia, Westpac bank released a decision pledging not to fund future coal basin projects in Australia, effectively putting the brakes on the disastrous Adani mega mine in Queensland. As proposed, the Adani mine would take up an area the size of Invercargill, with open-cut and underground production. It would threaten native bird species, indigenous land-use rights and the iconic Great Barrier Reef. Stopping the financing of the mine really is a win for people power.

But, Westpac is just the start. We need to make big changes, and we need to make them urgently.

New Zealand is a country that quite literally banks on the integrity of our natural environment. Rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods will continue, as the science modelling has predicted. Livelihoods across across the primary industries and tourism are at stake right now. It is obvious that we can’t continue to put climate change in a policy box and deal with it later.

We need our governments, our banks, our universities, our churches, every single institution and individual with investments in the fossil fuel industry to make a stand and divest.

And it is possible to have a strong economy that is not carbon-based: 2016 marked the third year in a row that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels and industry have shown weak growth compared to the growth of the global economy. Put simply, the global economy is gaining, while emissions are dropping off. This represents an opportunity to turn this low growth of emissions to no growth, while ensuring a decent and sustainable standard of living globally.

We have power as individuals to make a difference. 350 Aotearoa will continue working with our Australian counterparts to put pressure on the Australian Government – they hold the key to stopping the Adani mine for good. We will continue to take bold and creative action to put pressure on our banks – ANZ still has billions in the fossil fuel industry.

The fossil fuel industry is facing an erosion of its reputation and viability in a world where the impacts of climate change are being felt here and now. Our institutions have a choice. Let’s work together to move our money out of the ground and into the future. Because, as Paul Getsos, National Coordinator for the People’s Climate Movement, said during the hugely successful People’s Climate March last week, “to change everything, we need everyone”.

350 Aotearoa is the New Zealand arm of the international climate movement 350.org, which aims to unite the world around climate change solutions. Our mission is to inspire climate action in communities across New Zealand.

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
Original url