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How is the UK progressing in its divestment in fossil fuels?

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The UK government has deferred its decision on whether to divest in fossil fuels until May 2019. Currently, the UK is said to be the biggest subsidiser of fossil fuels within the EU, resulting in pleas for change from other members.

Fossil Fuels Sunset  Oil Refinery, Salt Lake County, Utah.

Image Credit: arbyreed from Flickr

The worldwide campaign for fossil fuel divestment began to spread across university campuses in the early 2010s. Arguably, strides have been made since then, with hundreds of cross-party UK MPs demanding for fossil fuel investments to be dropped from their pension funds in 2018.

For decades, world economies have relied on fossil fuels as one of the main sources of energy for homes, cars, factories and businesses. However, the exploitation of fossil fuel has resulted in an incredible amount of land degradation, animal habitat loss and increased global warming.

A recent report by the European Commission shows the UK to be the EU country with the most fossil fuel subsidies in low-income countries. As of 2017, councils in the UK had invested over £16.1 billion in fossil fuels, including a total of £551 million spent in support of overseas investment.

Surprisingly The National Trust, the largest independent environmental charity in the UK, has also been criticised for having £30 million invested in fossil fuels.

These figures have pushed for the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to launch an official inquiry, looking into the scale and impact of the UK's investment in the industry. This examination is conducted in light of the nation's Clean Growth Strategy, which aims to grow national income, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Ban-Ki Moon, a former United Nations Secretary-General, has called for the UK’s tremendous influence to propagate a world movement against climate change. 

Speaking to  The Guardian, Ban-Ki Moon urged for the Prime Minister to put a serious stop on its overseas fossil fuels investments, a decision which is now being withheld until May 2019.

Ban Ki-moon - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012

Image Credit: World Economic Forum on Flickr

He said: “The time has come for the UK to change course, in the interests of the whole world. It is deeply concerning to note that over the period 2010-2014, the UK Export Finance provided more than 99.4% of its energy finance to fossil fuels, and less than 1% to renewable energy. These figures are hard to reconcile with the UK’s own pledge in 2013 to end support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas. They are also at odds with the view of the governor of the Bank of England, who warned in 2014 of the stranded asset risk inherent in fossil fuel projects.”

Other countries, including Ecuador, have confirmed their support for Ban-Ki Moon’s global initiative for, “zero regular gas burning by 2030”. 

It was also reported that in April 2018 the UK set a new record by powering itself without coal for three days in a row. A third of Britain’s electricity supply was drawn from gas, followed by a third from wind farms, with the remainder from nuclear energy. The rest was supplied by biomass burned in North Yorkshire, imports from France and the Netherlands, and solar power.

On the positive side, non-governmental efforts have been made across various industries.

In the past two years, more than £15 billion has been divested by insurance companies selling their shares in coal companies and refusing to insure their businesses.

Churches in the UK have also reached a milestone in fossil fuel divestment. Rev. Hugh Lee, who has worked in the coal industry for four decades, succeeded in his campaign to convince the Church of England to drop its holdings in fossil fuel companies that fail to align with the Paris climate accord by 2023. The Church’s investment pot amounts to £12 billion.

Climate campaigners are now calling for the public to stop placing their money in banks that invest in fossil fuels, including HSBC, Barclays and Natwest. The public is encouraged to choose “ethical banking alternatives”, such as Co-op, Nationwide and Ecology Building Society.

Several universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, are facing backlash for ruling out divestment despite pressure from academics and strikes by undergraduates and alumni.

Speaking again to The Guardian, Ban-Ki Moon added:"There is now a growing consensus that fossil fuels should not be funded in any way by export finance organisations. The World Bank Group has already ended its finance to upstream oil and gas; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development recently ended finance to coal; and the Swedish Export Credit Corporation has announced it is going fully fossil-free. The wider UK government should use the occasion of the parliamentary inquiry to demonstrate a clear shift in policy to support clean energy."

Ban-Ki Moon is hopeful that the UK government, businesses and individuals will take the steps necessary to move the country towards a low-carbon economy.

Lead Image:The Associated Press from Fox News Network




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