The COP 19 climate talks came to a close the past weekend, and as my good friend Seyi from Nigeria would put it “we shall see who is who when the dust settles” .Well, we may not be sure about the good guys on matters climate, but, we certainly know who wants to burn more coal and who is not willing to commit, either financially or by cutting emissions to the cause of combating climate change. However, the not so bright picture should not discourage those who are genuinely looking for solutions out of the imminent climate crisis. Let us therefore, not tire in the quest for a cleaner atmosphere and hopefully, eventual achievement of climate justice.
To the critical question, away from political machinations, what can the citizenry and institutions do to secure better global climate conditions? First, to challenge the status quo, possible solutions need to be out of the ordinary, more daring and sophisticated. Case in point, for the first time agriculture has been recognized and given considerable attention as can be witnessed in the latest UNEP emissions’ gap report. Fossil fuel divestment, a phrase which meant nothing to me until less than 2 weeks ago, is another example of a radical, yet promising way to help curb the increase in green house gas emissions. Based on the principle that it is wrong to gain from climate change, it encourages institutions withdraw and dispose of any of their investment in fossil fuel (oil, coal, natural gas) companies in favour of alternative ventures that do not adversely affect the climate. The rationale here is that the business model of fossil fuel companies is firmly rooted in practices that are deleterious to the planet, communities and to the principles of democracy.
As far as destruction to the planet is concerned the fossil fuel divestment movement backs its arguments with numbers; at a maximum, the planet will be able to stay under the 2oC temperature rise at 575 GT of CO2 burning, yet about 2795 GT CO2 will be potentially emitted if fossil fuel companies burn their reserves. The difference is higher by a factor of about five, we can only imagine what would happen if all the reserves of fossil fuels were to be burnt. Divestment therefore aims to compel fossil fuel companies to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons and to pledge to permanently keep 80% of their current reserves underground.
Divestment as a technique has effectively worked in the past for example, on apartheid in South Africa. This was a motivating factor for the group of Swarthmore College students considered as pioneers of the fossil fuel divestment movement in the United States about 3 years ago. The movement is strongly driven by students and has been taken up by persons such as Bill McKibben who is currently on a European tour to popularize the movement beyond North America. Consequently, a number of institutions, cities and individuals have made commitments to divest from fossil fuel companies. Some of the most prominent institutions that have done this include, but not limited to, Green Mountain College in Vermont and San Francisco State Foundation while cities include Seattle, who apparently are the first city in the United States to be involved with the divestment campaign. Am I not just glad to be associated with Seattle, especially after she was also listed as the smartest city in North America by the business magazine Fast Company?
Despite the anticlimax at the Warsaw climate talks – I believe that a lot of lessons have been learnt and that individuals and institutions feel empowered to contribute to this challenging phenomenon of our time. Fossil fuel divestment may not be the silver bullet, but among other initiatives, it is worth a try– when push comes to shove on matters of climate justice, the options are unlimited.