#KnysnaFires and #Capestorm should make South Africans think twice about their savings/investments in fossil fuel companies

Cape Town, 8 June:– It’s difficult to directly link individual extreme weather events like the Cape storm and Knysna fires to climate change.

But ever-increasing extreme weather events like these – and the Cape Town drought – are very much what has been predicted by scientists studying climate change.

Climate change is caused by global warming resulting from carbon dioxide emissions, most of which comes from burning oil, gas and coal.

In South Africa, most of this comes from Eskom, Sasol, and the rest of our coal industry: companies like Anglo Coal, Exxaro, BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Oakbay, and others.

Globally, companies like Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil work to block the development of cleaner energy like wind and solar. Even economics textbooks acknowledge proper climate policies are blocked by the natural resources industries.

If we want a secure future, we should stop investing in these companies.

Around the world, hundreds of institutions (now worth over $5 trillion), led by universities, but including cities like Paris, Melbourne, Oslo and Copenhagen are stopping their investments in fossil fuels.

It’s time to divest in South Africa. Tell your financial services provider you no longer want to be invested in destroying your own future, or in old energy companies that are rapidly losing value in the face of climate change regulation and energy technology change.

Tell your company pension fund trustees you no longer want to be invested in destroying your own future.

#Divest from fossil fuels. Invest in a sustainable future.

Subscribe to Fossil Free SA’s mailing list for more details. Read more about the scope and scale of the global divest-invest movement at gofossilfree.org/commitments.

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Coal, oil and gas investments to be phased out, UCT Convocation votes

2 Mar 2017, Cape Town: On Tuesday 28 February, the Convocation of the University of Cape Town overwhelmingly passed a non-binding motion – read the minutes of the meeting (pdf) – for the university to rid itself of all investments in fossil fuels within five years. Should the university council agree to this motion, it would make UCT the first African University to formally commit to divesting from fossil fuels.

Convocation is a statutory body of the university comprised of all graduates, vice-chancellors and academic staff, which can express opinions and selects six members of Council (the university’s highest decision-making body).

The divestment motion was proposed by David Le Page of Fossil Free UCT, Fossil Free SA and UCT’s own Ethical Investment Task Team. He reminded the gathering of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 2014 call for UCT to phase out its fossil fuel investments. The motion was seconded by Dr Yvette Abrahams, who spoke of the severe impacts of climate change, especially on African women and vulnerable people, and urged the university to “practice what we teach”.

The UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, said he mostly supported the motion, but requested an amendment to the specific call for divestment within five years, arguing that it pre-empted the ongoing work of the Ethical Investment Task Team. His proposed amendment was narrowly defeated in a vote. Convocation then moved to pass the unamended version of the motion 107 to 25, with 15 abstentions.

Despite being non-binding, Convocation’s endorsement of divestment is significant, as it marks yet another call from the university community to the administration to align the university’s investments with its values. In November, students from the Green Campus Initiative and Climate Action Project met with the Vice-Chancellor to hand over 500 signatures from academics and students calling for UCT to divest.

Concerns that divestment could reduce the university’s income from its investments should not be dismissed, but unless the university discloses the content of its actual portfolios in accord with best practice for public institutions, have not yet been substantiated either. Fossil Free UCT urges the university to move to full disclosure, in accord with the draft recommendations of its own Ethical Investment Task Team, as soon as possible, to allow for more informed discussion of the matter.

Full text of the divestment motion passed by the UCT Convocation on 28 February 2017

The United Nations has called climate change “the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and human rights of our time.” But international commitments to reducing carbon emissions still fall far short of what is needed to limit dangerous climate change. This  unprecedented danger to humanity has inspired a global ethical movement for divestment from fossil fuel companies. At the same time, current international commitments to reduce carbon emissions and rapid technological change have already led many fund managers to reconsider their investments in these potentially stranded assets, while a growing number of studies show that responsible investment portfolios typically offer returns on a par with or superior to, conventional investment portfolios.

The global movement for divestment from fossil fuels on both ethical and prudential grounds now includes over 40 UK and US universities, cities of the stature of Copenhagen, Melbourne, Seattle and Oxford, and the total value of funds that have committed to various forms of divestment now approaches $5 trillion.

Over the past three years, close to five hundred staff, students and alumni have called on UCT to divest, a call that has the strong support of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, where the University’s climate change research is centred.

This motion commends the University and Council for establishing the Ethical Investment Task Team, and calls for urgent progress in completing the Task Team’s work, in fully disclosing the University and UCT Foundation’s investments in accord with best practice, and in opening the University’s investment decision-making process to representations from all interested parties.

The University’s mission statement commits us to the values of engaged citizenship and social justice. In accord with those values, we now move that the University makes a binding public commitment to phase out, at the least, over no more than five years, all investments in fossil fuel companies listed in the Carbon Tracker Top 200, seeking where advisable alternative investments in renewable energy. We also urge action in making UCT’s own operations and infrastructure more sustainable and carbon neutral.

‘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!

Latest newsletter: UCT march planned for 11 Oct, and other news

UCT campaign ongoing, divestment march on campus on Tuesday 11 October

Our continuing campaign at UCT has moved the university to develop a draft ethical investment policy. If approved, that policy will create the channels for UCT to consider a commitment to divestment. The university’s ethical investment task team meets again this Thursday. 

  • To keep up the pressure on UCT, we are planning a march calling again on the university to divest. The march will start at the ACDI building at 1pm on Tuesday 11 October. Mpho Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, has indicated she will do her best to attend and support. Note: Unfortunately, due to the closure of the UCT campus, this march had to be cancelled.
  • In preparation, there will be a screening of the 350.org divestment documentary Do the Math on Monday, 12 Sept at 6pm, EGS studio 1. (All welcome, please bring snacks.)

Divest-Reinvest webinar hosted by Global Catholic Climate Movement

For those who would like to learn more about divestment, the Global Catholic Climate Movement is hosting an online webinar tomorrow at 2–3.30pm SA time. You don’t have to be Catholic to register, and while there’ll no doubt be a faith-based angle to it, lots for all of us to learn. Register here.

General news

  • Later this year (details TBC), we are planning a workshop on how South African investors can start finding ways to divest, and how we can push for ethical/divested options in South Africa. Please get in touch if you wish to contribute, or suggest contributors.
  • 350.org is hosting a national student summit on divestment in Johannesburg later this month (UCT students are attending.) Contact Ahmed Mokgopo (ahmed@350.org) for details.
  • The most recent university to divest is the Queensland University of Technology, which announced its plans last Friday. As ever, Jeremy Leggett provides excellent updates on the progress of the ‘Carbon War’.

Reminders 

  • If you’re associated with UCT and would like to publicly endorse the 2015 letter of the UCT ACDI Masters Class urging divestment, please read and sign up
  • We have 18A tax exempt status now – please consider starting a R50 or R100 monthly stop order in our favour. Our deep thanks to those who have already done so. Please contact Rob (robzipplies@gmail.com) for a tax certificate. 
  • If you’d like to set up your own campus divestment campaign, please contact us, or consult this useful starter guide.

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.