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.
Summary by Bridget Stuart
This week, we heard from Dr. Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Dr Birol’s spoke on the impact of COVID on the energy sector, and the Green Recovery of the future.
The global pandemic has led to the biggest shock to the energy industry since WWII, causing a decline more than 7 times larger than the 2008 financial crash. Fortunately, it is fossil fuels which have been hit the hardest, and renewable energies, such as wind or solar have actually proven to be relatively ‘COVID immune’. There has also been a 7% drop in emissions, thanks to the pandemic—the deepest decline in decades. However, there is a real risk that emissions will rebound with the economy and this decline will only be temporary.
This means that the next 3 years will be a ‘make or break’ period in determining whether countries will meet their 2050 net-zero goals. Recovery policies and economic packages centring on renewables will be essential in facilitating this. These policies must be aimed at maximising energy efficiency, improving pre-existing energy grids, and developing innovative technologies.
The questions considered green stimulus packages, the geopolitics of energy, COP26, OPEC countries, individual action and policy-making in emerging economies.
Event summary by Bridget Stuart
During this event, we had three brilliant and distinguished women discuss the complex intersection of race and climate.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is an attorney and climate justice activist leader born and raised in New York, with Puerto Rican heritage and African and Indigenous ancestry. She is the Executive Director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest community-led organisation. In her speech, she imparted a resonant message: we cannot tackle climate change and race as separate issues.
The lives of non-white communities around the world are disproportionally impacted by pollution, toxic air, extreme weather events, which—when compounded with poorer healthcare and less support from organisational bodies—makes them increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate breakdown. And yet, Elizabeth posed the stark question, “Why do people care more about polar bears than people of colour?"
The roots of the climate activism can be found in the social justice movement, and a just transition must be led by front-line communities, striving for people-centred solutions towards a resilient, regenerative and equal society.
Dr Ariadne Collins is a lecturer in International Relations at St Andrews University, and her work lies in market-based conservation and post-colonial development. She focused on the countries of Guyana and Surinam, and how their 500 years of colonial histories need to be recognised as structural conditions in order for conservation interventions to be effective. Detailing the histories of both nations, Ariadne critiqued the UN-led REDD+ programme, highlighting how the programme side-steps the colonial past.
Archana Soreng is an environmental activist and UN Youth Advisor on Climate Change, who belongs to the Khadia Tribe in Sundergarh, India. She started off by talking about how the colonial, extractivist, developmental worldview has been demeaning and destroying indigenous people and their ways of life for centuries. These indigenous communities are the least responsible for the climate crisis, yet it is these people who are both disproportionately suffering from the negative effects of climate change and who are on the front-line of climate justice activism and action.
Archana made the point that the traditional expertise and first-hand perspective of indigenous people is extremely valuable in the fight against climate change. These marginalised voices must be included and listened to, if we are to create real change.
Here are some take away points from the Q+A:
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