Event summary by Nayah Thu
Dr. Ellen Quigley and Dr. Jonathan Porritt spoke at this week’s discussion about divestment.
As effective legislation often comes from a place of moral indignation, Dr. Quigley asserted that we need to stigmatise the fossil-fuel industry in order to make abstract climate-change dangers seem more concrete. She mentioned the symbolic effects of divestment, which popularises ideas about fossil-fuel free societies.
Divestment must apply to all asset classes, and Dr. Quigley criticised the Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) initiative, for misleading people with “ethical” funds. Selling stocks in the secondary market has no substantial effect on firms’ capital costs or actions, as their operations are mostly financed by debt. A very small minority of banks finance most fossil-fuel production, with Barclays Bank being the worst offender in Europe. To be effective, ESG would need to expand beyond public equity and into venture capital, private equity, and bonds. Otherwise, one is effectively “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.
Drawing a parallel with the anti-apartheid movement, Dr. Quigley confirmed that we need a broad mix of techniques to enact change, including civil society pressure and shareholder aggression.
Dr. Porritt seconded this, calling universities’ failure to act on the existential risk of climate change “one of the most disgraceful failings of moral leadership I have ever seen”. He challenged the hypocrisy of commitments with no time constraints, and advocated leading by example.
Porritt introduced the “inevitable policy response initiative”, which posits that politicians will eventually be forced to go into “climate emergency mode”, facing an increasingly binary choice between crashing the economy and ending life on earth – neither of which they want. He emphasised the importance of short-term plans: actions by 2025 are needed to reach 2050 goals. Both agreed that insurance markets are instrumental in achieving divestment, by increasingly pricing assets as 'too risky'.
How does the global pandemic affect the case for divestment?
How best can we accelerate political change to build the legislation needed?
To hear more of this fascinating conversation, please head to the OCS YouTube channel, where you can watch the recording in full.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last month released a white paper setting out their industrial strategy. This document claims to contain a plan which is “building a Britain fit for the future”, as such, it is important to see how environmentally friendly that future appears.
The first notable thing is that the government identifies four “grand challenges” which are to be tackled to put the UK at the forefront of the world economy; the ageing society, future of mobility and AI & data economy are three of them. But the final challenge the government has identified is clean growth, which appears to be a strong environmental commitment. The government states it “will maximise the advantages for UK industry from the shift to clean growth.”
So what does the government mean by this? And more importantly, what do they plan to do? Let’s begin by going through the “early priority areas” identified in the strategy.
Today marks the six-month anniversary of Michael Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary. In the past, Gove had shown a fairly poor voting record on environmental issues, voting against a ban on “unconventional petroleum exploitation” and alongside that voted against a motion explicitly requiring environmental permits for natural gas fracking operations. The MP also had no previous experience in agricultural or environmental roles, previous roles being Justice and Education secretary, so his promotion sparked outcry from many. Ed Davey, the former Environment secretary, described the appointment as ‘an act of environmental vandalism’, and said it would be ‘like putting a wolf in charge of the chicken coop’.
The looming prospect of Brexit makes for uncertain times in the realm of UK environmental policy, and so in many ways Gove’s tenure takes place at a truly pivotal moment. So, what has he achieved since June?
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.