Fossil Fuel Divestment in the UK & Sustainability Through Finance

Retrieved from People and Planet


Fossil Fuel Divestment in the UK & Sustainability Through Finance

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is now a 1st year PhD student at the University of Manchester  after studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.  He’s now trapped in the Nexus, researching the transition to sustainability of the global water-energy system.

Divestment’s come to Britain, in a big way. On the back of rising success stateside and a growing global influence, the fossil fuel divestment campaign’s finally taking hold in the UK with progress already gained at the University of Surrey. I’m chuffed really, so pleased to be able to check in periodically on the whole movement and see it constantly progress and expand. This is brilliant news, emblematic of the curious characteristics of this approach. We’re talking about a very strategic tactic here.

They are the boycott-direct-action of our modern globalised capitalism. Divestment doesn’t seek to radically transform the financial system to achieve its ends, rather it bends to fit the prevailing structure. In doing so these structures can erode, creating  crisis and opportunity for change. As Tutu frames it in the piece, you fight your moral cause by bleeding away profits. Though the current global economic system is a significant part of the problem, by targeting financial instruments you might hit where it hurts most. Take away steady sources of capital like pension funds or university endowments and financing that next big oil exploration project or new coal mine becomes all the more difficult. Pragmatic activism, who would have guessed?

Not to mention how much this all lends itself to the environmental economics approach, simply internalising more accurately the full costs and risks of energy production. That a coalition of 70 investors (worth $3 trillion) is calling on the global heavy hitters in energy to reassess their business plan financial risks in light of climate change and the current anaemic action is another vital step, and an encouraging sign of what else may soon be possible. In moving investment funds away from fossil energy we’re opening up new capital flows to be tapped by the truly transformational projects out there. There is no guarantee that more accurately accounting for carbon risk and moving out of fossil fuel portfolios will directly lead to more investment in low carbon energy solutions, or technologies to consumer our natural resources (such as water) more efficiently. Indirectly however you can bet there will be some such effects if for no other reason than the weakened business case for less sustainable competitors. Reforming the financial system has a role to play in driving forward the transition to sustainability of the energy-water nexus.

I’ve done a bit of work in energy economics and finance and the political economics of sustainability but having joined Manchester Business School I now have access to some of the world’s leading practitioners and thinkers on innovation and sustainability in business & finance. There’s a lot more to say about this and with at least three years left to sponge off of my peers’ collective genius I guarantee you will see this again soon. That is, of using the contemporary political economic structures as they are now to foster fundamental change towards sustainability, and for that matter more effective management of the Water-Energy Nexus itself.

Here’s to People & Planet’s Fossil Free UK campaign and a lot more like it! And to the victories ahead, many as they will be.

~Miles On Water


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