fossil fuels

Cape Town to divest!

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille at a 2011 protest against the proposed 'Secrecy Bill'. Pic: David Le Page.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille at a 2011 protest against the proposed ‘Secrecy Bill’. Pic: David Le Page.

The City of Cape Town has committed to divesting from fossil fuels! Tucked away in a recent statement about the City’s green bonds, Mayor Patricia de Lille added:

I am taking this a step further and I have informed our Finance Directorate that we are going to divest from fossil fuel assets and companies in favour of greener and cleaner investments which are in line with our vision of a sustainable future. We are going to instruct investors looking after our money not to put our money into fossil fuel-related companies or for it to be used to fund the development of dirty and unsustainable projects. We want our investments to be aligned with our principles of resilience and sustainability.

Fossil Free SA, together with 350 Africa, has been campaigning for the city to divest since late 2016.

Also, following up on our May workshop, we’ve published an oped in Business Day on divestment: ‘Signs are the climate is right for divesting from the fossil fuel industry’.

Come to Fossil Free SA’s next community event on 26 July, 5.30 for 6pm, at 75 Harrington Street, Cape Town, to find out more about how you can join the global movement to divest from fossil fuels.

 

Kevin Coldrey: A personal South African divestment story

KevinColdreyI am an economist by training and worked in the industry for almost a decade before making the decision to change career paths. I am currently furthering my studies, this time focusing on climate change and sustainable development. I hope to use my experience in the corporate sector to drive the change that is needed, looking for ways to incentivise behaviour change financially.

Between 12 and 18 months ago I decided to divest out of fossil fuel-based companies as best I could. I was at the time invested in a resources unit trust in SA, a general equity unit trust in SA, a private share portfolio of SA stocks, and two separate offshore unit trusts.

The decision was based on two factors:

  1. I felt it was my responsibility to contribute to a low-carbon future, and
  2. the returns that I was earning through holding shares like Sasol was being hampered by the commodity downturn; and my outlook for the global energy economy was, and still is, that we will never see the same prices for fossil fuels as we had in the lead up to the global financial crisis because I believe we have turned a corner in renewable energy generation.

My divestment process was hampered by the limited options available to retail investors but I did the following:

  • I sold my holdings in the resources and general equity unit trusts in SA (the general equity unit trust included significant holdings in the likes of Sasol, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, etc).
  • I sold my private shares in fossil fuel-based companies.
  • I kept my two offshore investments as I wanted to hedge my exposure to the Rand which I still believe is due for a further devaluation.
  • I invested in the Nedbank Green Savings Bond which is a guaranteed fixed investment vehicle where all capital raised is earmarked for renewable energy projects in SA.
  • I bought shares for my private portfolio that I felt were less carbon-intensive and where I felt that they were operating in industries that will become more important in the future such as water and agriculture.

If you have a personal divestment story to share with us, please get in touch.

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”.

Fossil Free SA launches and updates

First, if you haven’t yet donated via our Thundafund appeal, please do so. We value your presence in our network more than your money, but we do need to fund this effort if we’re to make this work sustainable. As ever, if you haven’t yet filled in our Support form, please do so. If you’re associated with UCT, please sign that petition. And if you’d like to start a campaign at another university, please get in touch.

Now, on to some reports from our various launches, and some other news. Meanwhile, later this week, via a protest with 350 Africa outside Nedbank (yes, the ‘green bank’) over their coal funding, we’ll be in Howick (by invitation!) and Durban (tell your friends).

Pretoria

Our Pretoria event was at St Mark’s Church, Waverley, with guest speaker Simon Gear, former 50|50 anchor presenter and author.

At every event – Cape Town, Bloem, Joburg, Pretoria – we have been moved by people’s enthusiasm. The divestment campaign somehow excites people. Why? Is it because of the link to apartheid? That it is a bit edgy? That we are taking on the dirty fossil fuel industry on their own terms (money)? That it is rapidly growing globally? That it is supported by amazing moral leaders such as Archbishop Tutu? All of the above? Irrespective, it is a wonderful thing to grow a movement amidst such palpable enthusiasm and support.Pretoria FFSA launchEach event differs and our venue this time was without electricity, but using oil lamps and a series of extension cables from a kindly neighbour for the projector, we got going with gusto in low-carbon mode.

Simon Gear, our guest speaker, kicked off the evening explaining that “everything scientists say we should do to combat climate change, we should be doing anyway”. For example, shutting down coal mining and coal-fired power stations would also have massive benefits for human health, water quality and quantity, and biodiversity. He emphasised that these reasons alone – climate change aside – would justify a rapid switch to clean energy. And of course using renewable energy creates more, safer jobs. Simon expressed his excitement about the global divestment campaign and it being an effective lever for real change. (more…)

Fossil Free South Africa launches in Cape Town

IMG_1260

Revd Mpho Tutu of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation

On Wednesday 12 November, we had our first of several launches for the expanded Fossil Free South Africa campaign at the Mountain Club in central Cape Town. Around 80 guests gathered to hear Mpho Tutu, director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, talk about her experience of the anti-apartheid divestment campaign of which her father, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, was a leader. She also outlined the profound injustice of climate change – that those least responsible for creating the problem are and will be most affected.

Anton Cartwright, the Mistra Urban Futures researcher at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town spoke about climate impacts, the practicability of renewable energy as a replacement for ‘baseload power sources’ like coal and nuclear (it’s practical), and also passionately addressed the moral dimensions of the issue.

IMG_1265I (David Le Page) gave an in-depth account of the rationale for the campaign, and its international dimensions, Samantha Bailey gave the 350.org perspective and Rob Zipplies spoke about the nuts-and-bolts of our local efforts and fundraising, all of which are detailed on our Thundafund site. (Do contribute – we need funding to keep this work going.) An energetic question-and-answer session raised lots of issues and possibilities.

Anton Cartwright

Anton Cartwright

We certainly don’t have the answers to all the questions yet – a lot of research and work is still needed to clarify the possibilities for alternative carbon-free investments. But we’ve made a start. And one of our audience members has already drafted template letters that you can use to lobby either the UCT or other pensions funds for divestment! So please start firing off those letters.

Next week, Rob and I head off to host similar events around the country, starting in Bloemfontein and going on to Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Please do share the details of those events with your friends in those cities!

Many, many thanks to everyone who supported this event, whether as guests, registrars, lighting assistants or wine donors (thanks again, Spier).

It was a busy week for us… on Thursday, I heard 25 students at the Raymond Ackerman Academy for Entrepreneurs at the UCT Graduate School of Business passionately presenting their research on the issue of whether or not UCT should be invested in fossil fuels. The forum was a debating club. There were dissenters who raised important questions and considerations, but most of the students are very much in favour of UCT divesting, pointing again and again to the university’s stature and claims to ‘values-based leadership’. Indeed, many seemed quite puzzled that UCT is invested in fossil fuels. Some interesting personal testimony came from a young man who had aimed to earn large amounts of money working on oil rigs, but had become disillusioned by the realities of the industry.Photo on 2014-11-13 at 1.16 PM

Upcoming video shoot, Glasgow divests(!), and other news

Fossil Free UCT and GCI meet with the Collective to discuss divestment

Fossil Free UCT and GCI met with the Collective on 1 Oct to discuss divestment

Super important points

• We are shooting a video to support fundraising to expand this campaign. If you can spare us a couple of hours of your time on Saturday 25 October, please let us know. Email david.lepage@gmail.com for details. The video will also serve as a promo for the campaign, especially at UCT.

• Our next working group meeting will be in Centlivres 3.29 at 5pm on Tuesday 21 October. It will be preceded by a 4pm  mini-training session – a chance to talk through and learn more about the campaign issues.

• Don’t forget to sign our UCT petition, if you’ve not done so already. And please register your support.

Other news

• On November 25 at lunchtime, there will be a screening of Do the Math in the Health Sciences Faculty, Medical Campus.

• Fantastic news – as you may already have picked up, Glasgow University has divested, the first university in the UK to do so.

• ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’ That’s how Business Spectator Australia summarises the message to fossil fuel interests from a new report by international investment bank UBS.

Investment bank UBS says in a new report that, following a series of meetings with clients, it sees the fossil fuel divestment campaign as significant and potentially effective. “Many of those engaged in the debate are the consumers, voters and leaders of the next several decades. In our view, this single fact carries more weight than any other data point on the planet for this issue,” UBS said in the report out of London.

• The Australian National University has dropped some of its dirtiest fossil fuel investments: ‘The Council of the Australian National University has agreed to the proposal by vice-chancellor professor Ian Young to drop the multi-million dollar investments following an investigation by independent research organisation CAER. The university will divest its holdings in Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources. The $16 million divested stocks represent about 5.5 per cent of the university’s Australian equity holdings and about 1 per cent of its total investment holdings.’

• Speaking of Australia, here’s some Aussie black humour on the subject of the coal industry.

Writing in the Guardian just before the UN Climate Summit, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has reiterated his divestment call: ‘Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a technical scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time… The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither.’

• Demonstrating the instability of economies based on fossil fuels, falling oil prices are “sending economic and political shockwaves around the world“.

Sydney University freezes coal investment, and other updates

• Great news from Australia: Sydney University has frozen investment in coal.

• Pitzer College is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles which has divested completely from fossil fuels. Donald Gould, a trustee and chair of the investment committee at Pitzer College and president of Gould Asset Management, explains why, and his reasoning includes a response to those who claim it is hypocritical to divest while still making some use of fossil fuels:

This misses the fundamental reality that while we are all embedded in the carbon economy to some degree, it is not really by choice. Do we choose to buy a particular car because it is powered by gasoline? Does anyone (other than a fossil-fuel company) care about the source of the electricity that powers our appliances? No.

The real hypocrisy is saying that you support a world largely free of fossil-fuel emissions, while at the same time betting on their producers to continue delivering a steady profit stream to your endowment.

• The ratings agency Standard and Poors has warned that global coal assets may well be overvalued:

In a report released on Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said that, despite the dominant position still held by coal in the world’s primary energy and electricity markets, and the sheer size of global coal reserves – enough to last more than 110 years at current production levels – in an increasingly carbon-constrained environment, most of those assets would wind up having no economic return.

• It’s well worth reading the logic of Stanford University’s coal divestment decision. Stanford’s Statement on Investment Responsibility, originally adopted in 1971, states that the trustees’ primary obligation in investing endowment assets is to maximize the financial return of those assets to support the university. In addition, it states that when the trustees judge that “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury,” they may include this factor in their investment decisions.

• At the University of California, Berkley, Professor Daniel Kammen, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and energy professor at , has called for divestment:

Today, UC Berkeley and most institutions are financially invested in destroying our future… Instead of funding the problem, we should be investing in solutions that at once aid the transition to a low-carbon economy and grow our university’s bottom line. There is no lack of financially and environmentally sustainable reinvestment opportunities; as of yet, there is only a lack of leadership.

• Going back a few months, we find a call from faculty at Cornell University, arguing that:

Our scientific papers, public presentations, and advice to policymakers have not spoken loudly enough. For better or worse, we need to “put our money where our mouth is.” And we can do this in two ways: First, by becoming carbon neutral and, second, by simultaneously stopping our investment in the ongoing extraction of fossil fuels. Although some financial sacrifice in pursuit of our institutional responsibility would be justified, we have conducted the analyses and determined that the proposed actions will not only have a negligible impact on growth of the University’s endowment, they may significantly reduce overall risk in the University’s investment portfolio.

Our students have led the way. It is time for the faculty to step up to the plate. Our goal is to make a strong public statement that will draw attention to the need for society to transition from fossil fuels to truly clean sources of energy that are fossil carbon neutral. We recognize that the University’s divestment actions can result in only a relatively small direct financial impact on these companies. However, the moral courage demonstrated first by Cornell, and then by its peer institutions, will have a galvanizing effect on the movement within this country and internationally.

• On the other hand, Oregon State University has rejected divestment calls, with the excuse that “categorically removing this sector would violate prudent investing rules that characterise best practices in asset allocation.” To which, the best response may be this cartoon.