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Dossier:

Beyond petroleum

In 2000, the oil giant BP rebranded itself, claiming its two letters now stood for „Beyond Petroleum“. It was a nod to the renewable energy sources of the future, but one that backfired spectacularly when the company continued to be responsible for oil spill disasters.

In this fairplanet dossier we explore the fossil fuel industry and ask what we need to do to move beyond the use of oil, gas and coal in order to halt climate change before it’s too late.

 

01.

The Peak Oil Preacher

With an oil price that stands at about USD 50 per barrel, it may be easy to dismiss Peak Oil as a myth. But author and Peak Oil expert Johan Landgren argues that we have to prepare now for an era in which cheap oil will be a part of history. If not, the transition will be harsh.

"This has nothing to do with apocalyptic thoughts. These are just facts that we have to relate to," Johan Landgren says.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Peak Oil is The hypothetical point in time when the global production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline.

"It is important to stress that we will not suddenly run out of oil, which is a common misconception. That will actually never happen, because it will take more energy to extract the oil than the energy the oil will give back long before that scenario becomes a reality," Mr. Landgren says.

Johan Landgren’s interest in the Peak Oil debate started off in 2010 when he visited a conference in Washington DC. Since then he has written the book Olja för Blåbär (Oil for Blueberries) on the topic, authored several articles and runs an active blog on the subject (www.peak-oil.se).

Johan Landgren

One can tell he is passionate about Peak Oil, and Mr. Landgren has chosen a lifestyle in which he lives what he preaches, trying to minimize his own dependence on fossil fuels. He is one of the first owners of the electric car Tesla Model S in Sweden, he has left the university town of Uppsala for a rural part of the country, and he is a beekeeper since a few years back.

"No one would be happier than me if the Peak Oil happens in 15 years instead of 5, because that would give us more time for the transition. But it is better to use the time that we have now to adapt our lifestyles, instead of sitting back and wait for technological solutions that will provide cheap energy - because that will not happen", he says.

Conventional vs. unconventional oil

Critics of the Peak Oil phenomenon argue that new techniques, such as the extraction of shale oil - which has increased the oil production dramatically in the United States during the last years - if needed could be exported to the rest of the world. But Johan Landgren argues that it is crucial to make a distinction between conventional oil – that is petroleum extracted through traditional oil well methods - and unconventional oil, such as shale oil and oil sand: "Any geologist in the world knows that the unconventional oil is a completely different thing. It costs much more in terms of both energy and investments to extract. In order to replace the conventional oil with the unconventional oil, we need a brand new kind of economy which is not fueled by cheap energy, but on expensive energy."

Mr. Landgren believes that the shale oil findings have bought the US some time, but that the conventional oil production – which according to him constitutes 85 percent of the total crude oil production in the world – is likely to peak within the next few years, and thereafter decrease by approximately 6 percent each year.

But if fossil fuels are not a sustainable option for keeping the wheels of our cars, economies and lifestyles spinning, what about alternative energy sources such as wind power and solar energy?

Johan Landgren argues that the oil is harder to substitute than some may think, due to its unique qualities, such as the incredible energy content and the fact that oil is liquid and therefore suitable for the production of plastics, medicines and so on.

"People tend to forget this when they talk about renewable energy. Sure, we should invest a lot in renewable energy sources, but it is not equivalent to liquid fuel. Renewable energy sources lack some important qualities of the oil, which are qualities that we have built our economy upon."

He continues: "We can’t become naïve and believe that if we just set up a large amount of wind turbines and solar cells the issue of peak oil will be solved. I sometimes think that people have become so used to advanced technology that they forget that the prerequisite of the fast technological development has been the availability of cheap energy."

Instead, in order to cope with a decreased access to cheap, fossil fuels, Johan Landgren puts his hopes to a system which is less dependent on transportations by being more locally based and where more people are involved in the food production.

Oil Dependence around the World

While the industrial countries have reaped the benefits of the fossil fuels during the last couple of centuries, there is a different story in other parts of the world.

Is it fair to say that some countries won’t be able to experience the same development as the West since the resources are limited?

"That is a really difficult question. Countries like China or Nigeria won’t buy the argument that they shouldn’t consume a lot of oil now, because it may lead to a bad scenario in the future. But China has actually already prepared their infrastructure for a future in which the access to oil is more restricted, so they will probably cope with the situation better than many other countries, so Landgren.

He also believes that so called developing countries in Africa and Asia have the advantage of being less dependent on food import than the West, which will make their transition easier.

"The western countries have a lot to learn from other countries in the future. Just because we have been able to make our economies grow due to the access to cheap energy for the last 200 years, our system may not necessarily be the way forward."

02.

The Shell-Nigeria verdict

"So just try to put yourself into somebody else's gills/ You're killing my ecosystem with fishing and oil spills/ Thank you BP/ Thank you BP/ The British are spilling, oil is killing/ Now I can't see [...] Oceans are browning/ I think I'm drowning/ Thanks to BP"

Whether you have children, or know the Disney classic "The Little Mermaid" from your own childhood, you will most certainly remember the film's feature song "Under the Sea", sung by Sebastian the Jamaican crab. A couple of weeks ago, a talented young film student from the U.S. called Jon Cozart, aka Paint, uploaded his - let's call it a more realistic 21st century-take of the iconic song on YouTube (see lyrics above). The painstakingly planned and edited video "After Ever After" instantly went viral, counting more than 52 million views to date.

More importantly, the Youtube-hit managed to highlight some of today’s most pressing issues, among them that of environmental protection. In particular, oil spills and the lack of responsibility displayed by international behemoths such as BP or Shell in recent years.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: CLEAN UP YOUR MESS, SHELL! The fairplanet petition

As fairplanet reported previously, Shell made headlines in early 2013 when several Nigerian farmers took the multinational to court in what was an unprecedented lawsuit. Four farmers from the Niger Delta accused the oil giant of poisoning fish ponds and farmlands in three different cities after an oil spill from one of Shell's pipelines. The destruction of the main source of income for the farmers and fishermen of Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo in Nigeria's Niger Delta region threatened their livelihoods and future. Many people moved away, since there were no fish left to be caught and no fertile soil left to farm.

Read on fairplanet: NIGERIAN FARMERS BRINGING SHELL TO JUSTICE

The verdict was delivered in a Dutch court on 30th January 2013, with the court rejecting four out of five allegations against Shell over oil pollution. However, still finding the subsidiary firm Shell Nigeria partly responsible for pollution in one case, and ordering it to pay compensation because it failed in its "duty of care" Even though the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, who helped to bring forward the case, said they were disappointed and intended to appeal, the simple fact that the lawsuit did proceed - after Shell's continued effort to block it for years - is a triumph in itself, as Spiegel Online noted just days before the verdict:

 

"No matter how the case turns out, the fact that a major corporation is being sued for the first time in a European court for environmental damage in a developing country will have consequences." (Spiegel Online, 01/29/2013)

Shell’s defense was based mostly on the claim that sabotage was the root cause for the pollution of the ponds and farmland. The tapping of oil pipelines and misappropriation of the valuable natural resource remains a problem in Nigeria and other parts of the world for that matter. Devastating oil spills can be one consequence of this. The problem is, however, that Shell itself is investigating these incidents, which creates an undeniable conflict of interest. Research by Amnesty International revealed major flaws in these oil spill investigations in Nigeria.

Needless to say, there is a lot to be done. The problem is that some changes may come too late for some of Nigeria's farmers, fishers and residents.

Finally, 2014 in one of the five cases, Shell's Nigerian subsidiary company has been found guilty for failing to live up to its "duty of care", which requires the company to protect the land and its people from the damage caused by sabotage. The court ruled that this was not the case in the village of Ikot Ada Udo. In the broadest sense, the "duty of care" statue stands for the legal obligation of a person or an organisation to avoid acts or omissions, which may be harmful to others. In environmental law, this extends to the handling of waste in particular. Anyone who produces, imports, keeps, stores, transports, treats or disposes of waste must ensure that it is managed properly.

The court case serves as a warning for other international oil companies, seeing that it is now possible to hold them accountable for their actions overseas. For Nigerians, many of which lack faith in their country’s justice system, this landmark court case signifies a beacon of hope. They now know that a court case against a major multinational in a European court is a very real possibility. 

THE HISTORY OF THE SHELL VERDICT

See also: 

Once again: Shell has started drilling explorations in the Arctic. Explore how the first year of operations has gone. A timeline by The Wilderness Society

03.

The Change is Economic, Not Ideological

Paul Klein, founder and president, Impakt, published an article in Forbes magazine. In that article, Klein, a crusader helping organizations solve social problems by improving the value of investments in social change, painted a fictional rosy scenario:

January 1, 2025, Irving, Texas: Exxon Mobil is proud to announce that its exit from the extraction and production of nonrenewable resources is now complete. Back in 2015 the company began its 10-year journey out of fossil fuels by committing itself to a bold set of changes that have transformed the company and indeed the world.

Klein writes that while this scenario sounds far-fetched, new research he and his organization conducted with Microsoft, Nestlé, Pfizer and Telus International revealed that announcements like this one may not be that unusual in 2025.

To this Klein added a quote from one of his business partners, Jeffrey Puritt, president of TELUS International, a giant of business process outsourcing. “An intersection is coming where society will expect corporations to fill the void in the face of government cuts, and, likewise, corporations will expect their societal influence to increase as their social capital becomes the force of change in communities, countries and even entire global industries,” said Purrit.

I hate being the cynic critic here, but both the rosy fiction of Klein and the frightening prediction of Purrit are absurd. The scenario in which society will expect corporations to fill the void of government, is scary, to say the least. And sadly Exxon Mobil has actually backed away in the last year from its promises for a greener energy production. No, I’m sorry; corporations should not wear the shoes of public. If there is one thing we learned from two centuries of capitalism is that corporations move in one direction – maximizing profits for their shareholders, not for society.

Exxon Mobil has actually backed away in the last year from its promises for a greener energy production.

But that doesn’t mean that these scenarios cannot happen.

The simple thing is that the driving force behind the change will come purely from economic reasons. And Exxon Mobil and it’s sector is a good example to demonstrate it.

The fossil fuel industry released some well-timed attacks on the divestment movement. Coinciding with Global Divestment Day, a series of videos and reports made the case that divestment is nothing less than turning our backs on progress. What this industry is just starting to internalize is that the growing pressure to rethink our energy habits is not about going back. It is the result of a huge, world-altering shift in how we generate, use and conserve energy. A transition that is already underway. Here are just a few stories that demonstrate this shift:

2014 closed with some good news: Some economies are seeing a beautiful drop in their energy consumption and as a result their emissions drop too! If this trend continues, fossil fuel companies will find it harder and harder to make a profit. One of the many reasons this is happening is the sharp growth of renewable energy and it’s dropping price.

In Latin American solar grew 370% last year, and is expected to triple in 2015. At the same time, solar prices have plummeted, and are expected to fall 40% more in the next two years. Chinese coal production is falling, and Wind and solar are now the cheapest option for China's energy growth. China’s neighbor, India, is investing huge amounts in solar power and Norway just abandoned many of its coal and tar-sands investments.

I can go on and on but you get the idea – we are witnessing demand destruction in the fossil fuel industry. Demand destruction occurs when you eliminate or substantially reduce the need for the resource on a near-permanent basis. Somebody trading in a Chevrolet Malibu for a Nissan Leaf won’t be buying any gasoline for the next 10 years. Electric car sales are growing dramatically in many markets (comparing January 2014 with January 2015, plug-in hybrid sales jumped 1000% in the UK). And when you put the whole puzzle together, the future is clear and cleaner.

But companies like Exxon or Shell will not go down without a fight. Get ready to watch them lose.

04.

Keep it in the ground!

Since its launch more than 140,000 of you have signed the Guardian’s petition calling on the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to divest from fossil fuels. Photograph: The Guardian

As the Paris COP 21 UN climate change conference approaches, Keep it in the ground, the Guardian’s climate campaign that launched in March, is making a shift in direction to tap into a rare commodity in the climate debate - hope.

Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks (Guardian)

In particular, they are aiming to give a fresh focus on the solar revolution already underway and transforming the global energy system. The campaign wants to show that the transition to a world run on clean energy is possible and indeed already happening outside the doors of the UN. Keep it in the ground is also  a platform to the people impacted by the decisions being made in Paris and to showcase the energy and creative actions that our readers can get involved in. So far The Keep it in the ground campaign has surpassed 210,000 supporters from more than 170 countries.
Read more about Keep it in the ground!

05.

The People Who Already Live at the Mercy of Fossil Fuels

We might look towards a low-carbon future, but in the meantime, indigenous peoples continue to suffer some of the highest costs of the industries driving climate change.

For indigenous peoples, climate change is not only a matter of environmental challenges, but also threatens their human rights and cultural survival

These peoples bear the brunt of climate change for two reasons: they depend on natural resources for their livelihoods and, at the same time, they are among the world’s most marginalised, impoverished peoples.

When it comes to making decisions about the use of land, indigenous peoples sovereignty over their ancestral lands can often be ignored in favour of big business or governmental greed. From the Arctic to the Pacific, indigenous peoples are suffering the health effects of environmental contamination, and a lack of representation on the global level. With thousands of years of precise ecosystem knowledge, they have plenty to offer the climate change discourse, but tend to go unheard.

As the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the end of September, indigenous leaders called for world leaders to ensure their peoples won’t be left behind.

The 2030 goals, which build on the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 as a 15-year agenda to tackle inequality, poverty and climate change, carry very few direct references to indigenous peoples. And yet the framework will determine the course of indigenous peoples’ living conditions over the next 15 years and beyond.

The impact of climate change, as well as the effect of extractive industries, poses a direct threat to indigenous peoples all over the world, from the Arctic Circle to the Pacific Ocean. They are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of both these forces, and yet they lack the political power to overcome it without significant support.

Indigenous representative Joan Carling, who addressed the UN the same weekend the new agenda was adopted, explicitly stated: “The Millennium Development Goals [from 2000] did not overcome the discrimination of indigenous peoples. If we should not again be left behind, we need concrete actions.”

Carling asked that the new goals respect indigenous peoples self-governing institutions, sustainable resource management systems and their right to free, prior and informed consent.

“We nourish the forests, deserts, rivers and fields that form part of our culture,” she said. “Our traditional knowledge is built through centuries of symbiotic interaction and co-­dependence with our natural environment. We are governed by our customary institutions that provide for social cohesion, cooperation and collective resilience; access to justice; sustainable resource management systems for the common good, and; solidarity relations with other peoples. We are self-­governing peoples and rights holders, and our institutions uphold sustainable development as part of our wellbeing.”

“Why then are we being evicted to give way to hydro‐power dams, to mono-plantations and extractive industries? These destroy our lands, villages, livelihoods, sacred sites and our customary institutions and our wellbeing. This is the question of thousands of indigenous peoples who continue to be discriminated and marginalized as an effect of the economic growth in many states.”

Carling said that, in order for the new development goals to adequately care for the rights and interests of indigenous peoples, they would need to recognise and respect their customary institutions and already established sustainable resource management systems.

The goals would need to ensure that effected indigenous peoples could give their free prior and informed consent to development projects and programmes before they go ahead, instead of leaving them as an afterthought.

Further, she argued, “universal access to justice means ensuring the effective protection of our collective rights against land grabbing, displacements and destruction of our cultural heritage by states, corporations, investors and business enterprises. It means going beyond social or environmental safeguards to fully ensure respect for human rights, equitable benefit sharing and accountability.”

So how well are governments doing at ensuring these rights are upheld? So far, not so good.

Just how difficult it is to hold extractive industries accountable for their impact on indigenous peoples has become evident in Peru.

Indigenous communities in Loreto, an Amazon region, have had their land heavily contaminated by the oil industry for the last 40 years. When James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, visited the site in 2013, he reported that the communities had suffered “devastating consequences” at the hands of the industry.

"I have been able to personally confirm the serious environmental problems that exist in this zone due to the oil industry," Anaya said. "This includes the contamination of the body of waters and the soil used by the indigenous people in this region, which has affected their food sources and their health." 

Anaya’s job is to report back to the UN on issues affecting indigenous peoples. Just before Anaya’s visit to Peru, the Peruvian environmental regulator OEFA fined oil and gas company Pluspetrol $7.2 million for contaminating a lake to the extent that it effectively disappeared.

The company tried to blame the previous operators, Occidental Petroleum, for causing the contamination. But they already owed millions of dollars in unpaid fines for similar incidents, and even caused an environmental emergency further up the Amazon, polluting the area where Achuar and Kichwa indigenous people live.

“The indigenous leaders repeatedly made clear to me that they do not oppose development, but that the development must be in keeping with their rights, including their rights over their lands, natural resources and their own aspirations and priorities for development,” said Anaya at the time.

Although the Peruvian government approved a law enshrining the prior consultation of indigenous peoples on development projects in 2011, implementation remains slow and uncertain. For example, the proposed extension of part of the Camisea gas fields, which the UN has asked to be “immediately suspended”, is going ahead, despite its intention to further intrude on the Nahua-Nanti Reserve. These indigenous peoples comprise several uncontacted groups who would be put at serious risk of disease or death if not approached safely – they do not have any resistance to diseases tolerated in modern society.

Read more: Peru approves gas project, spells disaster for uncontacted tribes

“The challenge now,” says Anaya, “is to ensure that prior consultation is implemented according to the relevant international standards.”

Organisations like First Peoples Worldwide conduct research in an attempt to hold companies to account. Their Indigenous Rights Risk Report analyses 370 US-based oil, gas and mining sites operating on or near indigenous land. The results show 92 percent of these sites posing a medium to high risk to stakeholders (including indigenous peoples). “Yet only five of the companies have indigenous peoples policies to guide the company for how to positively engage and work with indigenous peoples,” according to the report.

While initiatives like this help spread the word about the impact of extractive industries on indigenous peoples, it is international policy enshrining the rights of indigenous peoples in law, and actions to ensure these laws are abided by, that will make all the difference.

06.

Holland's Energy Future Looks Set To Be A Huge Struggle

A long time ago Holland's inhabitants heated their houses with wood and peat. Then, in the late 19th century, coal came up as a heating source. The mines in the province of Limburg (part of the Ardennes region) delivered enough coal for the large cities and for the new steel industries that were constructed in the small town of Ijmuiden (near the North Sea, nowadays Tata Steel). If there was a shortage of coal, mines in Germany (Ruhr Gebiet) and Belgium (Ardennes) were close by. Trains brought the coal to cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague and to harbours like Den Helder (Navy harbor) and Flushing.

Coal remained the top fuel source for ships until the 1950s, then Diesel took over. For houses and industrial buildings in The Netherlands coal remained important until the 60's when natural gas was found in the Dutch province of Groningen. This huge gas field is the main heating and cooking source upon today. For the heavy industries (steel and electric power) coal is still the number one fuel. But there is a change coming up.

Since some 30 years gas (and some oil) has been found in the Dutch part of the North Sea. About 140 platforms are producing natural gas which is transported by pipe lines to the shore nearby the city of Den Helder. There the North Sea gas is mixed with the Groningen gas and transported to the distribution centres all over the country as well to pipe lines towards Germany, Belgium, France and even Italy. Nowadays, extra gas is imported from Russia (transported through Ukraine) and also mixed with the Groningen and North Sea gas to get the preferred quality.

But importing gas has a political problem because the relationship with either Russia as Ukraine is not stable. And pumping away from the gas stock in the Groningen field brings more and more tiny earthquakes, which lead to damage to the houses and other buildings around. Therefore and because of the need to downsize the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, Holland is forced to change its energy policy.

There still is enough gas for a period of 25 years in both the Groningen field as the North Sea.

There still is enough gas for a period of 25 years in both the Groningen field as the North Sea. In the North Sea is more gas available but new fields are small and production will cost more than now is called 'responsible'. Because oil prices (gas prices are coupled) are too low to invest in new gas fields.

That's the reason the minister of Energy – Mr. Kamp – suggested earlier this year to support oil companies to start drilling in those minor fields, so being able to stop using Groningen gas (which would stop the earthquakes) and being less dependent from Russian gas. But the oil companies are not much willing to open up new gas fields in the North Sea.

An alternative is more wind force as power supply. Already three large windmill farms have been positioned in the Dutch part of the North Sea but it's not enough to shut down all seven coal using power plants. And – switching to electricity as the main source of heating and cooking apart from lighting – the production of electricity should be expanded. But wind farms are not the most reliable systems. Wind is not always available and the generators in the mills produce small amounts of power. This power has to be transported to the shore (or, with wind farms on land to the distribution centres) and this transportation mean loss of power in the channel. Therefore another idea is the use of solar panels.

The Dutch government likes to support citizens to buy solar panels to produce their own electricity but there is not enough money available for subsidizing. Now owners of large groups of rental houses are subsidizing their tenants to provide these houses with solar panels. But not because of a changed government-policy... It's more because of a win-win situation between renters and tenants. Another alternative is tidal energy. Already three experimental sites are supplied with this kind of energy production. The generators in the seawaters are working because of the streaming of the tide. They might be able to supply the nation with possibly 50 percent of its power needs in the years ahead. The forecasts are promising.

Coal will not be forbidden in The Netherlands. It will remain in use for the steel industry and the power plants as long as alternative kinds of energy are not strong enough to provide all buildings in the country with power (and heat). And blacksmiths will use coal. But not in open fire places in houses or on barbeques.

 

07.

Divestment Campaign Leading the Way Forward

Divestment means getting rid of investments, in this case unethical ones.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has gained traction over the last five years thanks to a strong campaign by activist group 350.org that asks investors to commit to selling off coal, oil and gas investments over a period of five years.

The idea is to reverse the current trend of increasing carbon emissions. Fossil fuel companies have already found more than three times the quantity of fossil fuels that governments know can be safely burned without causing permanent, damaging climate change. And yet they continue to invest vast sums hunting for more to burn.

The aim of divestment is not to bankrupt fossil fuel companies financially but morally.

The aim of divestment is not to bankrupt fossil fuel companies financially but morally. By undermining the influence of these companies, smaller investors pave the way for politicians to create stronger carbon-cutting policies. If there are to be financial consequences, it will most likely be from these policies, rather than the original divestment.

Historically successful divestment campaigns have targeted apartheid in South Africa, the tobacco industry and Darfur: in all cases public pressure for divestment led governing bodies to write stronger policies against immoral practices.

If investors are able to move their investments to the clean energy sector, even better. These are the firms that will help drive our transition to a new, low-carbon world.

Who’s done it?

In March Oslo became the first capital city to commit to selling off its investments in fossil fuel companies, following 40 other (non-capital) cities who had led the way, including Oxford and San Francisco.

And in May Syracuse University committed to divest the largest sum so far: its $1.18bn endowment would be reinvested in clean energy technologies. A year earlier, Stanford agreed to move its investments out of the coal industry.

Already in 2013, research from Oxford University showed that the fossil fuel divestment campaign had become the fastest-growing in history.

September 2014 saw a significant boon for the movement, when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, named after John D Rockefeller who made his fortune in the oil industry, withdrew all fossil fuel investments from their $860 million fund.

“We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy,” said president Stephen Heintz as the fund joined with 800 global investors pledging to divest from fossil fuels ahead of a UN summit on climate change.

The fund’s Chair, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, said at the time that it just seemed wrong to be funding projects fighting climate change while continuing to invest in the companies who caused it. “We had investments that were undermining our grants.”

It is definitely organisations less interested in profits that are leading the divestment charge. But they also tend to be places where the public seek moral direction: universities, philanthropic organisations and faith groups. The World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christians, ruled out all fossil fuel investments last year, and was followed by the Church of England this April when it moved its 9 billion GBP fund out of thermal coal and tar sands. Yes, churches need to make money, too. But it seems they are keen to be among the first to push for investments that are morally stable.

“The church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor,” said Rev Canon Prof Richard Burridge, deputy chair of the Church of England’s ethical investment advisory group.

The Guardian’s ‘Keep it in the Ground’ campaign is lobbying the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest charitable foundations and funders of medical research, to join the cause and divest.

Update June 2016: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sold its holding in BP, after huge encouragement from 350.org campaigners. A no-brainer for the foundation which has spent billions of dollars improving global health, it sold its $187m stake in BP between September and December 2015. It had previously dumped its entire $824m holding in ExxonMobil.

Even before the foundation's divestment was revealed, it was determined in September 2015 that the divestment campaign now represents $2.6 trillion in investments moved away from fossil fuel industry.

What about my money?

One major argument for fossil fuel divestment is that it’s just good business. Of course, if climate change is countered and we create a low-carbon society, investments in fossil fuels will be virtually worthless.

But divestment in the meantime still makes sound financial sense. Those who have divested from coal in recent years have already avoided losses, as coal stocks have continued to plummet in value. And major financial institutions including HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Standard and Poor’s and Citi have all warned of the volatility of fossil fuel investments and the risks they involve.

At the same time, if divestment does not happen gradually, investors stand to lose trillions if the carbon bubble bursts.

What about the developing world?

Fossil fuel supporters often argue that coal, oil and gas are necessary for improving the lives of the world’s poorest people, by developing their nations and industries to pull them out of poverty and reach the same standards as the developed world.

But won’t climate change extend the reach of poverty?

Exactly, says the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In its most recent report, approved by 195 countries after being written and reviewed by thousands of top climate experts, the IPCC concluded that climate change “is a threat to sustainable development”, and this is driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

Global warming, the report said, will be damaging to humans and “limiting its effects is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication”.

Just to make it clear: the impacts of climate change are set to “prolong existing and create new poverty traps”.

Just to make it clear: the impacts of climate change are set to “prolong existing and create new poverty traps”.

So there goes that theory.

Divestment is the most sure-footed first step to creating the conditions for reducing climate change and the irreversible, damaging impact it will have on human beings.

How we can channel clean energy to developing countries remains to be seen, but arguing that fossil fuels are necessary for development is pointless: any development achieved in poorer countries will be diminished if people continue to be subjected to the effects of climate change.

Credits:
Editors: Vanessa Ellingham, Ama Lorenz
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