Fossil fuel divestment still only at ‘symbolic’ level

A demonstration for fossil fuel divestment at Oxford University, 2015. [Kamyar Adl/Flickr]

Almost 400 institutions have signed up to the global fossil fuel divestment campaign since 2012, but an NGO report has warned that their commitments are not enough to make a real difference. Journal de l’Environnement reports

“Every week we see new withdrawals of investments in oil, coal and gas,” Bill McKibben told a press conference in Paris on Tuesday (1 September). The American environmentalist is the co-founder of website, the organisation behind the Go Fossil Free campaign.

The California Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Medical Association and even the Australian city of Newcastle, home to the world’s largest coal port, have all committed to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies.

>> Read: Investors demand energy giants quit ‘anti-climate’ EU lobby groups

These commitments may be growing, but they are still only at symbolic levels, the French Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) warned on Monday 31 August. From 4 September, any organisation with shares in any of the companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list will be excluded from the French NGO’s socially responsible Ethique et Partage mutual fund. Carbon Underground 200 is a list of the world’s 100 biggest oil and gas companies and the 100 biggest coal companies.

Geneviève Guenard, CCFD’s administrative and financial director, recognised that “the fund is small and in reality the divestment only concerns one company”. But the decision is a symbolic one for the organisation, which has already ended all investments linked to arms, pornography and tobacco.

Stalemate in France

French President François Hollande’s promise to end export credits for coal-fired power stations, a commitment he made during the last environmental conference in November 2014, has still not been realised.

“The French government is woefully inept at carrying out its decisions. The ministers Laurent Fabius and Ségolène Royal are supporters of the plan, but progress is blocked by the economy ministry. Emmanuel Macron seems more concerned with Alstom’s balance sheet than the health of the planet,” said Yannick Jadot, a French Green MEP.

The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for 80% of global CO2 emissions and 67% of greenhouse gas emissions.

>> Read: COP 21 agreement set to miss CO2 reduction target by 10 gigatons

While he remains optimistic about the future of the divestment campaign, Bill Mc Kibben accepts that there is “no guarantee that it will achieve its aims worldwide”. Progress in certain sectors, like universities and ethical funds, can be seen as a positive sign for the divestment movement, but the global market capitalisation of coal, oil and gas companies is still over $5,000 billion.

This article was previously published by EURACTIV France.

Global leaders will met in Paris this December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which aims toi make legally binding a target to keep global warming below two degrees.

Ahead of the meeting investors are upping pressure on their portfolio companies, which include major energy and mining giants, to improve their performance on climate change.

The EU has set itself a legally-binding goal for 2020 of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix by the same amount, both measured against 1990 levels.

A target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency has also been set but it is not legally enforceable.

The EU's low carbon roadmap for 2050 goes further, setting a legally-binding target of 80%-95% carbon dioxide emissions reductions by that year, as measured against 1990 levels.

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