Desmond Tutu: ‘Nobody should profit from climate change suffering’



In an impassioned plea for action on climate change, the Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu has called for an apartheid-style boycott of fossil fuel firms.

In an article written for the Observer ahead of a crucial UN climate summit Tutu, a leader of the campaign that defeated apartheid in South Africa, calls on world leaders to curb greenhouse gas emissions

But to build a populist campaign pressuring politicians to do so, Tutu urges investors to ditch their holdings in the fossil fuel companies that are the biggest contributors to rising temperatures.  

Warning of the perfect storm of “unprecedented instability, insecurity and loss of species” that runaway global warming could unleash, Tutu argues that such action is urgently needed to protect vulnerable developing nations.  

“The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor,” he writes. 

“Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither.

“Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

Specifically, the archbishop calls on universities and municipalities, foundations and cultural institutions to join private investors in the growing fossil fuel divestment.

Pro-divestment campaigners lobby against fossil fuel firms 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, including Oxford City Council and the University of London.

Also calling for a boycott of events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies and the organisation of community actions such as car free days, Tutu stresses that the climate problem is one we must all rise to. 

“Through the power of our collective action we can hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up their mess,” he writes. 

“Who can stop climate change? We can. You and you and you, and me.” 

Photo: CIDSE – together for global justice via Flickr

Further reading:

People’s Climate march: World takes to the streets to demand climate change action

Desmond Tutu: divest from fossil fuels firms in ‘apartheid-style’ boycott

Leading institutional investors call for ambitious climate deal

Top 20 undeveloped oil projects will risk $91bn of investment

Oxford residents and students to march for fossil fuel divestment


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