Young people in London are leading a movement to stop universities investing in fossil fuel industries. The campaign is known as the divestment movement, which essentially means getting rid of business investments or interests.
The movement has been gaining traction, particularly as projections of global carbon emissions grew by a two per cent in 2017, sparking a worldwide sense of urgency to address climate change.
Beth Parkin, a member of the divestment movement, explained the importance of ending investments in fossil fuels in light of recent projections on the rise of carbon emissions.
Student campaigns have been instrumental in forcing universities to get rid of their fossil fuel investments.
In London, the London School of Economics, King’s College London, and Goldsmiths have been among the institutions which have pledged to divest.
One of my friends is studying at the University of the Arts in London and was appalled that UAL is dragging its feet on #fossilfuel divestment. Please consider signing this petition telling the UAL Vice Chancellor to smarten up! Link: > https://t.co/ql4ySsh5aL
— Andrew Laird (@ReclaimAnglesea) November 21, 2017
Across the UK, 59 universities have already committed to divest £11 billion, as controversy has been building around educational institutions’ connections to the fossil fuel industry.
The Guardian’s Paradise Papers investigation revealed that nearly half of all Oxbridge colleges, have secretly invested tens of millions of pounds in offshore funds, including in a joint venture to develop oil exploration and deep-sea drilling.
The Guardian said that these revelations are likely to increase pressure on the universities to divest fully from fossil fuels.
Divestment campaigners have also put together a useful online list of UK institutions and organisations, that include universities, indicating their divestment commitment – whether that’s full, partial, or coal and tar sands commitment.
On a policy level, London Mayor Sadiq Khan made a manifesto commitment in 2016 to ‘take all possible steps to divest the London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) of its remaining investments in fossil-fuel industries’.
But a year on, what progress has been made with regards to emissions and what does it mean for Londoners?
The LPFA manages the pensions of around 82,000 people working in London government. The fund’s total value is £5.3bn. Reports vary about what the fund’s exposure is to companies that generate revenues from oil, gas, and coal, including Shell and BP.
Last month, the LPFA published a new policy on climate change that said:
“The fund will not consider new active investments in fossil fuel companies. Where such investments are already in place and identified, [we] will make all reasonable efforts to divest provided that this will result in no material financial detriment. An initial review of the fund’s investments identifying headline climate change characteristics is aimed to be complete by the end of December 2017.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told Westminster World:
“Sadiq believes that the new LPFA climate change policy is one of the strongest and most sophisticated of any city in the world and will help to fulfil his manifesto commitment to take all possible steps to divest the fund of its remaining investments in fossil fuel industries.”
“He particularly welcomes the LPFA’s commitment to implement all necessary divestment by 2020 and is pleased that the fund has already successfully divested many of its assets. Research carried out by City Hall has also revealed that the scale of divestment is on a far bigger scale than other cities and is of a more complex nature.”
Will divestment really make a difference to Londoners? According to the Financial Times, last year, renewable energy, such as solar power, over took coal as the world’s largest source of power capacity. In April, Britain went a full day without turning on its coal-fired power stations for the first time in more than 130 years.
Forty per cent of London’s air pollution comes from diesel vehicles, 10 per cent from other types of road transport. To improve the city’s air quality, measures other than divestment may well prove more effective. These include Khan’s introduction of measures like the T-charge, ultra low emissions zone, and from 2018 only issuing new taxi licenses to electric taxis and no longer buying pure diesel double deck buses.
The urgency for cities and nations to address climate change has heightened after the 23rd annual conference of the parties or COP23 was held in Bonn, Germany last month, where discussions centred on keeping warming below two degrees.
Claire James, campaigns coordinator for Campaign against Climate Change, said: “The rise in emissions is alarming, since what we need is a rapid fall in emissions to have any chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C, or even the 2C which is supposed to be the absolute limit. Despite seeing the impacts of climate change already, countries are still subsidising fossil fuels and allowing further exploration and fossil fuel infrastructure to be built. To avoid catastrophic climate change we need to keep the majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.”
According to the Global Carbon Project, which has worked on analysing and reporting on the scale of emissions of CO2 since 2006, carbon emissions declined slightly or remained flat between 2014 and 2016. But overall emissions have increased by about three per cent each year from 2006 to 2014. China’s use of coal to aid its expanding economy is reported to be the cause.
Tom Geggus – Video interview (film and edit) and research, sub-editing
Caroline Paul and Miranda Tomlinson – Text, further research, data, interviews
Jane Bracher – Sub-editing/Wordpress, quote graphic, text
Martin Steers – Infographic, research, and data