Oxford City Council has become the first UK local authority to commit to fossil fuel divestment, after pledging to end its investments in the polluting industry on ethical grounds.
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Though the motion was passed on July 14, campaigners at Fossil Free Oxfordshire have timed the announcement of the historic breakthrough to coincide with the run up to a crucial UN climate summit, to be held in New York next week.
The motion, put forward by Green Party councillor Craig Simmons, committed the council to ending direct investments into fossil fuels firms – the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Though it stops short of restricting indirect investments, supporters plan to push on and make Oxford City Council truly fossil fuel free.
“We are proud that Oxford is the first local authority in the country to highlight the need to stop investing in fossil fuels,” said councillor Ruthi Brandt, who seconded the motion.
“This is an industry that should be winding down rather than investing in more and more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction. We hope we can get the city council to extend its divestment plan to include indirect investments as well, since much of the money invested in fossil fuels is through such investments.”
The growing global fossil fuel divestment movement has sought to stigmatise the industry, by urging investors to divest their shares in companies that extract, trade or burn fossil fuels.
Principally, this is because of the massive environmental impact that such companies have. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report concluded that carbon-intensive energy production was the single biggest contributor to global warming.
Energy companies continue to search for new fossil fuels reserves, despite warnings that 80% of the reserves already identified must never be used if dangerous climate tipping points are to be avoided.
The movement has found traction around the world, with many institutions and authorities considering the merits of divestment across the UK, but has gathered particularly strong support in Oxford.
In the UK’s biggest public demonstration against fossil fuel investments to date, the growing Fossil Free campaign took more than 150 Oxford students and residents to the streets in June.
Some 67 University of Oxford academics, including the former science adviser to the British government, also urged the city’s prestigious institution to join the cause.
Celebrating the success, Al Chisholm of the Fossil Free Oxfordshire said, “We are delighted that the council has publicly recognised that the fossil fuel industry’s business model and activities are harmful and inconsistent with the council’s mission and values. This move denies the industry the economic and moral support of another public institution.”
“But we are not about to stop here: As we approach the campaign’s first anniversary, this significant win only strengthens our resolve to persuade Oxfordshire County Council to move the £42 million its pension fund has invested directly in fossil fuel companies.”
Aside from the ethical case, there is also a strong financial case for divestment. If policies are introduced to ensure that the majority of fossil fuel reserves that cannot be burnt remain buried, the assets of fossil fuel firms would be severely devalued – becoming ‘stranded assets’ – according to the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, a pioneer in the field.
One recent study estimated that the world’s biggest 20 oil projects are putting $91 billion (£54bn) of investors’ money at risk as a result of this.
Photo: Adam Ramsay via Twitter