Green Finance, Fossil Fuel Divestment campaigns and divestment


Fossil Free Berlin had recent success when the Berlin Pension Fund agreed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

It is not really up for debate in most of the world anymore about whether climate change is a thing. 97% of scientists agree that climate change is a thing. Most politicians, people and even businessmen realistically accept it is a thing. The issue is, money always seems more important a thing to save than carbon emissions.

This makes sense on a case by case basis; bailiffs are scarier in the short term than dead polar bears, hiring more staff feels nicer than knowing you have done something to increase likelihood of CO2 emissions reducing to that palatable level of 350 parts per million.

For people interested in sustainability, this traditional argument against action that the green way costs more than the normal way is a difficult one to counter. But what if it wasn’t the case? In many industries this is already true. The Guardian covered this phenomenon last year, where ethical investments are already making more of a return than comparable investments. I personally saved a lot of money by switching my electricity supplier to Ecotricity. Awareness seems to be the bigger problem in a lot of cases.

And this is why the UN’s Environment Program has labelled this year as the ‘Year of Green Finance.’ Partly to find ways to allocate the necessary funds to ‘deliver the transition to a low-carbon, green economy’ but importantly to inform financers about important changes in the green industries. Launching a seminar in London on the matter, they promise to deliver advice about and the policies to promote investment in eco-friendly industries.

But this is also going on in a local grass roots level. There is a growing movement campaigning to get key institutions to stop investing in fossil fuel producing companies. The process is a similar one to the campaigns against arms and tobacco companies. Local campaign groups with a stake in an institution (student groups at universities, citizens of a local council etc) will campaign to get any investments the company has out of fossil fuel producing companies. The next step is not entirely clear, but usually it is to invest in anything more ethical.

There are lots of sound economic arguments for this too that go beyond simply sustainable consumption. There is the theory of a ‘carbon bubble’ that will come when governments are forced to act to stop fossil fuel producing companies from producing oil. These are vast sums of money too; Liverpool’s combined council pension fund, for example, has roughly £350 million pounds invested in these companies.

And these campaigns are already making a change. Last month the University of Liverpool announced they may be joining some forty universities across the world who have agreed to divest. This will mean £6 million will be invested elsewhere. James Melia-Jones, a spokesperson for the local campaign, says ‘the possibilities are endless. Ethical building societies could be built to re-energise the local economy, we could create thousands of green jobs here in Liverpool, it’s all very exciting really.’ Other institutions on divesting include the British Medical Association, the Church of England and Allianz.

A typical campaign poster to raise awareness about the divestment movement

And while we can’t say these kinds of campaigns are the sole answer to combatting climate change, they certainly are going to help. One recent study found the rapid growth of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry have ceased in the last two years. This is partly down to China’s reduction in coal usage, but it is also due to ‘slower global growth in petroleum and faster growth in renewables.’ In as pessimistic a subject as climate change, it is good to remember the positives.

This article was originally written on behalf of World Merit in April 2016.

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