climate change

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 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.

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.

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

UCT considering divestment, and other news

There’s been an amazing flood of news on the divestment front over the past couple of months – know that you are part of an extremely fast-growing movement.

First up, local news – following our promptings, and after our meeting with the UCT Vice Chancellor as Fossil Free UCT, the University of Cape Town has committed itself to an ethical investment strategy that may include fossil fuel divestment – and we have (again, as Fossil Free UCT) been invited to join the university’s task team looking into the mechanics of divestment. We’re cautiously excited about this development.

Fossil Free SA at the Renewable Energy Festival in Greenpoint, Cape Town

Fossil Free SA at the Renewable Energy Festival in Greenpoint, Cape Town

We’ve also had initial conversations with a local asset management company that has committed to looking into a fossil-free fund, and hope we can share more details soon. And we met with the public at the  WWF/AIDC Renewable Energy Festival on 28 March. Many thanks to the volunteers who helped manage our stand!

Incredibly, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set aside ‘neutrality’ to also dive in and endorse the divestment movement. And the Guardian, one of the world’s great newspapers, has endorsed divestment and set up a petition (please sign up) calling on Bill Gates’ massive Gates Foundation and the UK’s Wellcome Trust to divest (yes, the Gates Foundation currently profits from climate-changing investments that contribute to the poverty they are supposed to be ending.)

Meanwhile, we’re having to take a few weeks to focus on more fund-raising, as current funds will be exhausted around September.

Take action now

• Fill in our supporters form, if you’ve not done so already
Donate (now with Snapscan option)
Sign the Guardian’s petition

Other news

Bill McKibben writes in the Guardian of how far and fast the divestment campaign has moved, and reminds us of the limited role of international negotiations, which tend to reflect change rather than creating it. In fact, some consider the climate negotiations a complete waste of time. The Guardian Media Group is putting its money where its mouth is, and also divesting.

The UK’s climate and energy secretary, Ed Davey, has also backed the divestment campaign, as have 2,000 – two thousand – academics dedicated to the struggle to end poverty: Academics Stand Against Poverty.

Now, here are 10 myths about divestment, put to rest by the Guardian. And five more, put to rest by Rolling Stone.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph outlines some of the increasing woes of the fossil fuel industry: “The International Energy Agency (IEA) says fossil fuel companies have spent $7.6 trillion on exploration and production since 2005, yet output from conventional oil fields has nevertheless fallen… the world’s leading oil and gas companies were sinking into a debt-trap even before the latest crash in oil prices.”

Also, the World Federation of Public Health Associations has called for “a rapid phase-out of coal” to “limit further global warming and prevent illnesses and deaths associated with air pollution”.

Divestment Day is 13 February: join us at UCT

International Divestment Day is this coming Friday. Join us at UCT (details below). See other actions (comprehensive global list), such as Pretoria University (details below), or Stellenbosch.

Fossil Free UCT Bicycle Flash Mob And Human Microphone

Friday, February 13, 1:00 PM
Meeting point: Front of Centlivres Building (opposite Leslie Social Sciences), UCT Upper Campus, Rondebosch

We will meet with our bicycles in front of the Centlivres Building (opposite Leslie Social Sciences) on UCT Upper Campus at 1pm on Friday 13 February, and cycle to several different locations on campus to do a repeated short “human microphone” broadcast (see wiki for explanation) about the Fossil Free UCT campaign and why people should support us. Bring your bicycle, obviously. And please wear orange if you can. Estimated time: About one hour. Later in the afternoon, we will hang a banner over the M3. Contact: David: +27845220968.

More details and updates here:

Saturday, February 14, 10:00 AM Union Buildings, Pretoria, South Africa

We will be doing a photo stunt where we ask the South African public to divest from fossil fuels outside the office of our President at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. A photo stunt is a form of non-violent protest where you take a photo in an iconic location with your message depicted in the photo, so in this case: “SOUTH AFRICA DIVEST FROM FOSSIL FUELS”.

This event will take place in the morning and should be done before lunch time. It is a powerful way in which you can make a difference in this, the year of climate action. Please come and join us wearing something orange, the colour of our movement. Bring your family, bring your friends, bring your neighbours and bring any signs supporting our cause. We will be meeting at the base of the Nelson Mandela Statue, look forward to seeing you there! See: http://act.350.org/event/gdd_attend/10061

Thundafund appeal closes

Our crowdfunding effort closed on 31 January. The funds raised will help make our work over the next few months more sustainable. Many thanks to everyone who contributed.

The world’s biggest investment fund divests

Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund has dropped investments in coal, oil sands, cement and gold mining, citing the risks of climate change and other environmental concerns.

Local renewable energy divestment opportunity

A joint agricultural and renewable energy (RE) farm is being developed on an emerging farm in the Breede River valley by the owner, the Ashton Small Scale Farmers Trust (ASSFT) and a consortium of experienced small and medium sized German RE companies (IPD Power), in collaboration with the NGO TCOE (Trust for Community Outreach & Education) in Cape Town. 75 MW of solar capacity is planned, and 20 MW of wind energy capacity will later be added. The project is looking for potential shareholders. FFSA really likes the sound of this project, but please do your own due diligence. Details: IPD Power – Bonnievale Solar farm Information 0215 (pdf).

(more…)

Happy new year; please support our Thundafund appeal; also, 300 profs ask Stanford to divest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABest wishes for 2015, everyone.

Key campaign news:

• Firstly, our Thundafund appeal expires on 31 January – please donate if you can, spread the word and the link, share on Facebook, etc.

• Secondly, our first UCT working group meeting of the year will be at 5.27pm, on 27 January, in Centlivres 3.29.

And in other news:

• Stanford has already committed to divesting from coal: and now, ‘three hundred professors at Stanford, including Nobel laureates and this year’s Fields medal winner, are calling on the university to rid itself of all fossil fuel investments’. So far, not one professor at UCT has stood up to follow suit. Come on, UCT profs!

• This last Friday, we had an article about our campaign in the Mail & Guardian.

This is a great if somewhat alarming analysis in Truthout of the impact of plummeting oil prices on the fossil fuel bubble of which fracking has been a big part.

• We were profiled in Business Day towards the end of last year, which is great.

• Here’s a report about 350 Africa’s Fossil Free Africa campaign – we joined their Nedbank protest in Johannesburg a few weeks ago.

Australian musicians are backing divestment.

• One divestment sceptic has offered an interesting proposal for reducing university emissions: a campus carbon trading system. We disagree with him about the value of divestment, obviously, but the campus carbon trading system is worth looking into.

• California is the world’s eight largest economy – and the leader of the state senate is considering legislation forcing all state pension funds to divest from fossil fuels.