The following was extracted from our 2020 closing newsletter. You can sign up for our newsletters straight to your inbox here.
What a year this has been. We do hope that you have come through it without too much difficulty. Unfortunately, the pandemic is the kind of event that is considered by many experts to presage the kinds of global challenges that await if we do not get climate change in hand.
In our closing newsletter for 2020, we’ll be covering:
- Some of the most recent major climate-energy developments
- An update on the recent Convocation motion calling on UCT yet again to divest from fossil fuels
- Our new guide for responsible, lower-carbon investing
- The Coal Policy Tool now included on our website front page that shows what SA banks (and in time, asset managers) aren’t yet doing to cut carbon
- What we expect to be doing in 2021
There have been some major developments this year that do give us a little space for cautious optimism. In general, there is little sign that the climate movement is losing momentum.
- Divestment has slowed overall in the past year, and Covid-19 recovery plans have been all too fossil fuel-intensive, but;
- a climate-sane administration seems to be on the verge of being restored in the US,
- the New York State Pension Fund has committed to divestment (the biggest pension fund globally yet to do so)
- China committed to a long-term net-zero target, and
- the EU has just-set a target of reducing carbon emissions 55% by 2030.
These are important steps forward.
In South Africa, signals from our own government remain very mixed. Our own emissions continue to push us towards a 3–4C world (that’s 6–8C for us). The indications are that the energy-minerals complex remains distinctly ‘captured’, with plans for nuclear and expanded gas production being of great concern. There may be some contexts in which a rational argument can be made for some forms of nuclear, but the options being proposed for South Africa can only really be a reflection of entrenched vested interests and, charitably, policy inertia.
Gas, in turn, is not a climate solution. Methane emissions during the production process and the locking-in of fossil fuel infrastructure, when we are very close to a tipping point where new renewables will be cheaper even than existing fossil-power, makes gas a non-starter. The abuses of the gas industry in Mozambique make for chilling reading.
There has, however, been major local progress thanks to the ongoing work of organisations such as Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthlife Africa, Vukani Environmental Justice Network in Action, 350 Africa, Safsc and more. Some highlights include:
- The High Court in Pretoria setting aside the environmental approval for the 1200 MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station that would have been built outside Lephalale in Limpopo province.
- The Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries confirming that the National Prosecuting Authority has resolved to proceed with a criminal prosecution of major polluter and state-owned entity Eskom, for criminal violations of air pollution laws at its Kendal coal power station.
- The launch of the Climate Justice Coalition and the Green New Eskom Campaign.
- The launch of the Climate Justice Charter proposed for adoption in parliament.
Guide to lower-carbon investment for South Africans
Many of you have often asked, how can we divest from fossil fuels?
Embarrassingly for us, we have sometimes thought that new fossil fuel-free products are in the pipeline, but so far these have been false dawns.
But what we have done, for the meantime, is to compile a ‘Tentative guide to lower-carbon investment’ for South Africans. We welcome your feedback.
A new coal-policy tool on our website
We have also recently installed a new feature on our front page: the Coal Policy Tool.
- This is a research tool developed by the French NGO Reclaim Finance that allows one to see at a glance the climate policies of financial institutions.
- At the moment, the version on our front page only covers the paltry efforts of our ‘leading’ SA banks, but we are working to help Reclaim Finance include our bigger asset managers (those managing assets exceeding $10 billion) listed here as well.
Do take a look. Reclaim Finance’s director, Lucie Pinson, won the Goldman Prize for environmentalism last month, but our collaboration pre-dates her recognition by that award.
Justice and safety for SA environmental campaigners
We would like to thank the many of you who signed up for our letters calling for justice for murdered anti-mining campaigner Fikile Ntshangase, and for protection for Nonhle Mbuthuma. We will be following up with the authorities, and reporting back to you in the New Year.
Feedback from UCT’s 2020 meeting of Convocation
Last week, we again took a motion on divestment to UCT’s Convocation. We called on the university to adopt a “Climate Emergency Investment Plan” that would start with diverting R300m to a new fossil free and ethical SA equity fund, quick divestment of offshore funds, and collaboration with other universities and philanthropies. For the third time, we won our motion. Our candidate for Convocation President, Yvette Abrahams, sadly was voted down, but we thank her very much for standing.
Happily, in the course of the meeting of Convocation, the UCT Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, did indicate that the divestment principle has now been accepted by university management, and that all that awaits is implementation. She even mentioned possible collaboration with Fossil Free SA, which is heartening.
What’s next in 2021?
- We will not relax our efforts to secure divestment by UCT until we have seen money actually start moving into significantly fossil-fuel-free funds. Our campaign continues, stronger than ever, with many university students involved despite the challenges of organising during the pandemic.
- We will be launching a new letter-writing campaign to put pressure on asset managers to provide funds free of fossil fuels, and we hope to profile some of you to publicise interest in fossil-free funds. We’ll be hosting a webinar early in 2021 to launch this campaign.