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.

‘This Changes Everything’

Fossil Free South Africa held a successful screening of the documentary This Changes Everything on 26 November in Cape Town. Based on the book by Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything argues that the climate crisis is not just caused by our technology, but by the Enlightenment idea that humanity can command nature like a machine, an attitude embodied in the functioning of contemporary hypercapitalism. But if we regain respect for the power of the natural world, learn to work in rhythm with its own functioning and with respect for natural boundaries (here’s a great link to solutions), then perhaps we stand a chance of averting the catastrophes that climate change might bring  upon us: ‘What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world?’

The screening was preceded by brief presentations from the Sun Exchange and the Collective Objective, and we urged guests to attend the People’s Climate March this coming Sunday.

Submission to Parliament on the South African negotiating position for the UNFCCC COP 21 climate change negotiations in Paris

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs held a two-day public hearings process on climate change. The Committee received more than 30 submissions from interested parties and stakeholders on South Africa’s COP 21 position.

Fossil Free SA presents in Parliament: the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs held a two-day public hearings process on climate change. The Committee received more than 30 submissions from interested parties and stakeholders on South Africa’s COP 21 position.

Parliament held public hearings on climate change on 22/23 September, and Fossil Free South Africa made a submission to the hearings. This is the full text of our submission, which we presented in person as well, in slightly abbreviated form.

  1. Introduction

Honourable chairperson, honourable members of the portfolio committee, negotiators, comrades, molweni nonke.

I represent Fossil Free South Africa1 and Fossil Free UCT. I will provide a brief introduction to my organisation and the cause I represent. I will then critique two particular aspects of the discussion paper outlining SA’s position at the COP 21 Paris talks on climate change.

We endorse many of the calls you have heard already – for the most ambitious targets on emissions reductions, the calls for a just transition, the calls by Greenpeace, SAFCEI, Cosatu, Earthlife, WWF.

Firstly, you may not have heard of us, so let me explain a little about Fossil Free South Africa.

In March 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and three months later, he visited the United States, to thank those who had supported the struggle against apartheid, and to ask for continued pressure on the apartheid regime. On 30 June 1990, Madiba stood in Oakland, California, and there, speaking to 58,000 people, he said: “We salute the state of California for having such a powerful, principled stand on divestment.” And he praised the University of California, for also divesting from South Africa.

Well, I must tell you today that 25 years later, the state of California is again taking a stand on the greatest human rights issue of our time – climate change – by starting its own divestment from fossil fuels. California, which has the largest population of any state in the US, and which is the eighth largest economy in the world, (more…)

Some recent climate and divestment headlines

Norway confirms $900bn sovereign wealth fund’s major coal divestment 
“Norway’s parliament has formally endorsed the move to sell off coal investments from its $900bn sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest. It is the largest fossil fuel divestment yet, affecting 122 companies across the world, and marking a new success for the fast-growing and UN-backed climate change campaign.”

Australia: CFMEU backs Labor RET on condition of unprecedented assistance for vulnerable workers
“The surprise backer of a 50 per cent renewable energy target at the Labor Party’s weekend conference was Australia’s largest coal mining and energy union. Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) president, Tony Maher, seconded Bill Shorten’s energy policy, on the condition a Labor government provide unprecedented assistance for thousands of workers in traditional coal-fired generators and mines who might lose their jobs. “We’ve got to face the reality in domestic coal-fired power,” Mr Maher told 7.30.

Largest Australian Utility Polluter AGL Set To Decarbonize By 2050

RWE sheds old business model, embraces transition
RWE, Germany’s largest power producer, has decided to radically depart from its traditional business model based on large-scale thermal power production. Henceforth, the company will “create value by leading the transition to the future energy world”. This is shown by confidential strategy documents that were discussed at a recent meeting of RWE’s Supervisory Board in Warsaw which Energy Post has seen.”

Senior management of Enel and Greenpeace meet
(Enel is the largest Italian energy utility) “Following the appointment of the new company management, Enel’s industrial strategy is focused on further boosting investment in renewable sources, energy efficiency, smart grids and storage systems. The Group is also committed to gradually phasing out further investment in coal.”

[Governor of Bank of England] Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned
“The governor of the Bank of England has reiterated his warning that fossil fuel companies cannot burn all of their reserves if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, and called for investors to consider the long-term impacts of their decisions. According to reports, Carney told a World Bank seminar on integrated reporting on Friday that the “vast majority of reserves are unburnable” if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2C.”

This is what the utility death spiral looks like
“The German mega-utility RWE provided another dismal reminder today of the painful transition European power companies are undergoing. According to 2013 financial results, the utility lost more than $3.8 billion last year as it cycled down unprofitable fossil fuel plants due to sliding wholesale prices. The yearly loss is actually quite historic; it’s RWE’s first since 1949 when the German Republic was formed. This follows poor earnings news from Vattenfall, a Swedish utility with the second-biggest generation portfolio in Germany, which saw $2.3 billion in losses in 2013 due to this same “fundamental structural change” in the electricity market.”

South African retirement funds, representing R3 trillion in assets, play a critical role in channelling capital flows towards the achievement of a sustainable energy future in this country (pdf)
“Some R540 billion in private capital will be required to achieve the renewable energy vision for 2030 outlined in a previous study (Sager 2014), of which debt accounts for the lion’s share at R405 billon. SA wholesale banks active in financing REIPPPP projects have reached average exposure levels of 4-5% of their portfolios, nearing prudential portfolio limits. For comparison, the additional renewable energy (RE) debt requirement over the next 15 years is equivalent to a third of this group’s current net loans and advances. Retirement funds, with R3 trillion assets and long term liabilities, could supply R150bn of this debt requirement.”

Climate Change Investment Solutions: A Guide for Asset Owners (pdf)
“Investors are in a unique position to make the economic case for climate and energy policies that send the appropriate price signals to incentivise low carbon, clean energy investment.”

How Divestment Activists Saved ANU a Fortune
“When it comes to fossil fuel divestment, ethical investing could save you a fortune. For example, back in October last year, the Australian National University took the decision to listen to its staff, students and alumni, and as a result, it sold its shares in a number of fossil fuel companies, one of which was Santos Limited (ASX: STO)…. Since we don’t know the exact shareholding of each company, it’s impossible to know how much money the divestment decision has saved the uni. But the size of the ANU’s $1.1 billion fund certainly suggests it was a small fortune.”

AMCEN Declaration Urges Action on Climate Change, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Green Economy
“Ministers and delegates from 54 African nations adopted the Cairo Declaration at the AMCEN session, which convened in Cairo, Egypt, from 2-6 March 2015. The session took place under the theme, ‘Managing Africa’s Natural Capital for Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication.’ Ministers stressed that a new climate change agreement, which is expected to be agreed at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, must ensure that mitigation ambition keeps global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.”

August updates

Our core campaign to persuade the University of Cape Town to divest from fossil fuels is continuing. As a result of ongoing lobbying, we expect to be joining a meeting of the university’s ethical investment team with its advisers on 18 August. In the meantime, we have been searching for and meeting with potential funders to ensure that our work can continue beyond September, when our initial funding will run out.

Other recent activities have included a briefing on climate change and divestment to the investment team at Futuregrowth, and participating in a panel discussion on divestment for NGOs hosted by Inyathelo.

International developments

In the meantime, there have been some extremely encouraging developments in what Solar Century’s Jeremy Leggett calls ‘the Carbon War‘ – the civilisational struggle to stop climate change from advancing too far. Not all these developments have been in the realm of divestment alone – for example, the Pope’s recent Encyclical ‘Laudato Si‘ on economy, environment, climate change and inequality. (Here’s an overview of its significance.)

Another extremely significant moment has come as citizens in the Netherlands won a court case forcing their government to take stronger action on climate change with an order to cut carbon dioxide emissions 25% –within five years! This case is already inspiring similar court cases in other countries, such as Belgium. South African lawyers do not think the time is yet quite ripe for such action here in South Africa (we have asked the question), but note that the situation may change if there is a strong international agreement on climate change at the Paris talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of this year.

Closer to home, we have learned that the South African Government Employees’ Pension Fund is one of the most carbon-exposed funds in the world, with over R80 billion invested in coal. This means that civil servants in South Africa are very exposed indeed to the likely imminent end of the fossil fuel era. If you work in government in South Africa, you should be asking some very tough questions about how this critical aspect of your future is being managed, given the swift erosion of value in the stocks of many fossil fuel companies, and the danger of them becoming stranded assets.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a comprehensive report showing how companies like BP, Shell, and Chevron continue to produce misleading propaganda about climate change, even forging letters to the US Congress.

WWF has produced an important report on the role of retirement funds in funding the expansion of renewable energy in South Africa:

Some R540 billion in private capital will be required to achieve the renewable energy vision for 2030 outlined in a previous study (Sager 2014), of which debt accounts for the lion’s share at R405 billon. SA wholesale banks active in financing REIPPPP projects have reached average exposure levels of 4-5% of their portfolios, nearing prudential portfolio limits… Retirement funds, with R3 trillion assets and long term liabilities, could supply R150bn of this debt requirement.

Management issues

On a practical note, Fossil Free SA has now achieved tax-exempt status, and we can issue 18A certificates for all future donations. (Donate here.) We also held our second management committee meeting on 1 July; please email david@fossilfreesa.org.za if you would like to see the minutes.

May Boeve of 350.org visiting Cape Town, UCT and Jozi

4077149923_d7123e93ef_bMay Boeve is the new executive director of 350.org, the grass roots global climate movement that three years ago initiated the fast-growing global divestment movement. She succeeds Bill McKibben who, together with 350.org, was a recipient of the ‘alternative Nobel prize’, the Right Livelihood Award for 2014. May, who was recently profiled by the Guardian, which hailed her as the ‘new face of the climate change movement’, is visiting South Africa over the next week, and will be speaking on several different occasions about the global climate and fossil fuel divestment movements:

  • Monday 11 May, 09h00–11h00: AIDC (129 Rochester Rd, Observatory, Cape Town) Session 1: Fossil fuel divestment and the global movement. Session 2: Climate justice in South Africa – information sharing session and presentation by Project 90×2030 on mobilization around the forthcoming AU Summit. (Please RSVP to either neoka@project90by2030.org.za or khomotso@350.org)
  • Monday 11 May, 17h00: University of Cape Town Upper Campus: Snape Building SNLT 1: Public talk on the global climate and fossil fuel divestment movements. (B4 on this map).
  • Tuesday 12 May, 12h45: A closed talk at Stellenbosch University, email via this Facebook link for details.
  • Wednesday 13 May 2015: 17h30 for 18h00, Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg: A divestment dialogue