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‘No jobs on a dead planet’

Why South African unions should stop investing in fossil fuels and lobby for a just, planned transition to a green economy.

Briefing compiled by Fossil Free South Africa, February 2017. Contact: David Le Page, david@fossilfreesa.org.za / +27845220968. PDF version here

More jobs: Yes, the fossil fuel industry creates jobs, but it also creates climate change, air and water pollution, substantial corruption, wars, social instability, economic crises and fuel shortages, and destroys arable land — all of which destroy jobs and human wellbeing. A greener economy will create more, better, safer jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (https://goo.gl/rSryng): “…most studies show that a transition to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has argued for “a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country”, saying it will “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”. (https://goo.gl/k4da08). Renewable energy is now capable of powering developing economies, indeed the whole world, without all the terrible costs of fossil fuels.

Threatened investments: Investments in fossil fuels are losing value in many markets. Even if they do not embrace the moral arguments for divestment, unions still have a fiduciary duty to the members whose funds they manage to understand, manage, and where appropriate, divest, to avoid the multiplying threats to investments in the fossil fuel industry. According to BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption.”

Health and the right to life: Researchers at UCT’s Energy Research Centre estimate that 27,000 premature deaths across South Africa annually (7.4% of all deaths) are currently due to high levels of fine PM (microscopic particles), mostly from burning fossil fuels… and often in poorer communities. Even without climate change, we would still need to shut down the fossil fuel industry.

Human and worker rights: Climate change is a profound threat to Africa. Climate change is a human rights issue, already killing hundreds of thousands of African children every year through malnutrition and disease. Climate change threatens food security. It threatens economic growth and stability, and thereby threatens workers’ job and savings.

The fossil fuel industry is facing multiple, critical threats:

  • Renewable energy (especially wind & solar) is now the fastest growing energy industry in the world.
  • China is moving fast to phase out coal, and its coal use has already peaked.
  • By some predictions, electric cars will mostly replace petrol/diesel in 20 years’ time.
  • The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change saw most countries agree to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Even without these changes, in 50-100 years time at the most, all accessible fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted anyway.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but a managed, just transition is preferable.

Solidarity and tradition: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The global divestment movement is led by many people of colour and people of faith, constituencies which overlap strongly with the union movement. The union movement has a social and historical responsibility to stand up for social justice, human rights and good governance. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, threatening good governance and worker’s rights as well as human health and the environment.

A just transition from fossil fuels to a greener economy

A “just transition” would bring business, labour and government together to plan for a smooth move away from fossil fuels, as energy companies transform their business models. This transition is already beginning in other parts of the world, as, for example, offshore oil service companies move to servicing offshore wind power installations. Proposed ILO guidelines (https://goo.gl/jdaetC) for this just transition include re-skilling and training, social support and economic diversification. (more…)

Fossil Free SA 2016 annual report

We are happy to present our 2016 annual report (link to PDF), a review of our activities for the past year:

Summary

2017 saw the world both advancing and retreating on climate issues. The year started with the encouraging news of the landmark Paris agreement on climate change, which entered into force in November, years ahead of schedule; and ended with the election of a climate denier to the US presidency, and news that global warming in 2016 had already come close to the 1.5 degree boundary the Paris agreement was supposed to establish. 

The renewable energy revolution continued largely unabated, while the international divestment movement expanded to cover $5,4 trillion in total assets (total value of funds divesting, not capital divested). 

Fossil Free South Africa continued our work to expand awareness of the dangers of the fossil fuel industry – and raise the profile of possible divestment – in South Africa, largely in our key campaign at UCT, which is now close to adopting a responsible investment policy. We are now exploring the possibility of establishing our own vanguard fossil-free fund, and hope to hold a workshop in early 2017 to encourage local financial services companies to start thinking along similar lines.

Plans for 2017

Our key plans for 2017 include:

  • Continuing our keystone campaign for UCT to divest, as well as other SA universities.
  • Hosting a workshop (funding now confirmed) for SA fund owners and managers on carbon risk management and progressive/responsible/ethical investment in South Africa. Current enlisted partners include the Centre for Environmental Rights and 350.org. WWF has offered support in kind.
  • Working to establish our own decarbonised fund in partnership with Delta 4.
  • Building our Fossil Free SA supporters community through quarterly public meetings. 

If further funding materialises:

  • Expanding engagements with financial services companies.
  • Building links with other organisations working for environmental justice in the fossil fuel sector, which may include exploring and supporting legal challenges to government’s current energy policy.
  • Employing research, activist and marketing staff.

Petitions for UCT to divest handed over to Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price

gci-cap-ffuct-maxpriceOn 21 November, students from the UCT Climate Action Project and Green Campus Initiative met with Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price to hand over in person the various letters and petitions calling for UCT to stop investing in climate change.

These included:

  1. The most recent 2016 Renewed Call for UCT to divest (click if you’d still like to add your signature), endorsed by the Climate Action Project, Green Campus Initiative, Fossil Free UCT and the United Nations Association of South Africa UCT Chapter; and also signed by 83 individuals.
  2. The 2015 ACDI Masters class call on UCT to divest: “Development of a fossil fuel divestment strategy for UCT”, signed by the Class of 2015 Masters in Climate Change & Sustainable Development University of Cape Town; the Class of 2015 Masters in Environment, Society and Sustainability University of Cape Town; with “strong endorsement” from the Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department.
  3. The original 2013 Fossil Free UCT petition: “UCT to divest from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable energy”, with 395 signatures, and counting.

Dr Price received the letter and our concerns with attention, but also called for more leadership from students on campus on these issues. He said that he would work to push forward the work of the university’s ethical investment task team, and agreed to a proposed half-day solutions think tank session with VC, Council, academic chairs, experts and students next year to strategise around divestment.

Well done to everyone for their persistence and initiative!

Divestment featured in earthworks magazine

The campaign for fossil fuel divestment and the work of Fossil Free SA has been covered in an article in earthworks magazine.

UCT and fossil free divestment

On 17 May 2016, the African Climate Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town hosted a seminar on fossil free divestment at the university. The event was a partnership between ACDI, the Climate Action Project and Fossil Free UCT.

Fossil Free UCT has been campaigning since 2013 for UCT to divest from fossil fuels. The university has, in response, established an ethical investing task team, which is currently considering structures and procedures to consider divestment and other responsible investing issues. Divestment remains very low as a priority on the student agenda, and there is considerable reluctance and resistance amongst academics to the idea of divestment, even amongst those who accept and acknowledge the need for deep and urgent action on climate change.

Divestment is particularly technically challenging in South Africa, which has (with China) one of the world’s two most fossil-fuel intensive economies, and no existing culture of ethical investing. Remarkably, few South Africans are aware of or remember that our country benefited greatly from one of history’s most significant divestment campaigns, that against apartheid.

Panelists

Professor Alexandra Watson is the Richard Sonnenberg Professor of Accounting at UCT. She is a member of the board of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Alexandra is also on the board of Coronation Asset Management, and serves on the UCT Ethical Investing Task Team.

Ralph Hamann is Professor at the GSB, and he holds a Research Chair with the UCT African Climate and Development Initiative.

Kirtanya Lutchminarayan is a Masters student in the science faculty, a representative of the Green Campus Initiative, and a long-time supporter of Fossil Free UCT.

The discussion was chaired by David Le Page of Fossil Free UCT/SA, a UCT alumnus and environmental journalist.

Seminar on UCT and divestment on 17 May

On Tuesday 17 May, at 1.10pm, there will be a seminar on UCT and fossil fuel divestment, in EGS Studio 5, Upper Campus. The event is co-hosted by the African Development Development Initiative, Climate Action Society, Green Campus Initiative and Fossil Free UCT.

Background: Following urging from Fossil Free UCT, the UCT Council decided in 2015 that the University’s investments should henceforth be managed on a basis that includes ethical considerations. But what should that mean in practice? Given that climate change has been described as the greatest threat of the age to human rights, security and economic stability, most of all in Africa, should UCT be joining the international fossil fuel divestment movement? We’ll ask three panelists for their views, then open for questions and discussion.

Confirmed panelists are Professor Alexandra Watson (Commerce), Professor Ralph Hamann (Graduate School of Business) and Kirtanya Lutchminarayan (Green Campus Initiative and Fossil Free UCT).

By the way, if you’d like to also endorse the 2015 letter of the ACDI Masters Class urging divestment, you can read and endorse it here.

David Le Page wins the Eco-Warrior category in the 2015/16 Enviropaedia Eco-Logic Awards

So last night I won the Eco-Warrior category of the Enviropaedia 2015/16 Eco-Logic Awards. Many, many thanks to everyone who has supported Fossil Free South Africa and Fossil Free UCT, especially Robert Zipplies (who screened the doccie that spawned the idea and helped boost everything to a new level by formalising and fundraising for the campaign), our management committee (Cormac Cullinan, Happy Khambule, Nick King), William Frater who has greatly bolstered our credibility in the dialogue with UCT, and the comrades who signed that first letter to UCT in 2013 that kicked everything off, who included Jane Notten, Claire Kelly, Gina Ziervogel and Eduard Grebe. Also thanks to stalwarts like James Irlam, Giorgina King, Kirtanya Lutch, Tania Katzschner, Kai Coetzee, and to the many people who donated to our first crowdfunding campaign, and supported our late 2014 road trip. And of course, 350.org, which started the international divestment campaign.

Here’s hoping this award will help raise the profile of the campaign. We’re on the winning side of history, the world is decarbonising – but still not fast enough, and still without understanding the deeper cultural roots of our problems – the lack of faith in and care for each other, the compulsive desires for more-more-more, the excessive faith in technology, the religious attachment to economic growth, the loss of reverence for nature.