Thursday 29th September 2016                 Change text size:

UN backing fossil fuel divestment campaign



coal by oatsy40 via Flickr

Ethical investment is not a new thing, but the recent trend towards massive and sweeping fossil fuel divestment from pension funds, universities and cities, has definitely taken the idea of considering the morals of an investment to a new level – and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is backing the widespread campaign, lending its “moral authority” in the lead up to a major UN climate summit in Paris later this year.

Speaking to the Guardian, Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the UNFCCC, made it clear that the UN is fully supporting the current global divestment campaign.

“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nuttall.

Nuttall’s comments come in the wake of a number of major institutions and cities around the world making public commitments to divest from fossil fuels.

In early March, the City of Oslo, capital of Norway, announced that they would be divesting $7 million (£4.7m) worth of coal assets from its pension fund. Norway announced last December that it would begin excluding the most harmful of climate offenders from its $870 billion (£589bn) sovereign wealth fund on a “case-by-case basis”. Subsequently, the bank in charge of the country’s sovereign wealth fund announced in February that 49 companies had been divested from the fund’s investments.

An ever-increasing number of universities around the world have also made the decision to divest their fossil fuel investments, including a number throughout the US, Sweden, and the University of Sydney, the first Australian university to do so.

The most prominent universities currently faced with the decision to divest are the University of Oxford and Harvard University. The University of Oxford deferred the decision on whether to divest from fossil fuel investments to May, sparking widespread condemnation from school and alumni.

Despite the obvious widespread interest in fossil fuel divestment, and the ever-increasing action taken to divest, fossil fuel companies are unhappy with the UN’s support of the movement.

The World Coal Association (WCA) is quoted by the Guardian as criticising the UNFCCC’s decision to back divestment, saying it threatened investment in cleaner coal technologies. In a statement from February, the Association wrote, “Coal plays a vital role in society by providing 40% of global electricity and as an indispensable ingredient in modern infrastructure.”

Benjamin Sporton, WCA’s acting chief executive, commented, “Calls for divestment ignore the global role played by coal and the potential offered by HELE and CCUS technologies. It is essential that responsible investors actively engage with the coal industry. All low emission technologies are needed to meet climate targets. We cannot meet our energy needs, tackle energy poverty and reduce global emissions without utilising all options available to us, including low emissions coal.”

Nevertheless, the UNFCCC stand by their support of global divestment, as Nuttall explained, “Everything we do is based on science and the science is pretty clear that we need a world with a lot less fossil fuels. We have lent our own moral authority as the UN to those groups or organisations who are divesting. We are saying ‘we support your aims and ambitions because they are fairly and squarely our ambition’, which is to get a good deal in Paris.”

Photo: oatsy40 via Flickr

Further reading:

Oxford University defers divestment decision

London assembly backs fossil fuel divestment

University of Edinburgh academics call for divestment

Campaign calls on Pope to support fossil fuel divestment

Fossil fuel divestment campaigns can help ‘stigmatise’ industry


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