The Big Challenge: Mobilising a movement of change in Sheffield

Reader pic Wind Turbines at Royd Moor  Thurlstone  taken by David Flynn
Reader pic Wind Turbines at Royd Moor Thurlstone taken by David Flynn

From now until Saturday, millions of people globally are joining in with actions around the world with the single aim of trying to reduce investment in fossil fuel companies and to increase the amount invested in renewable energy projects and other, greener alternatives such as insulating homes.

This ‘Global Divestment Mobilisation’ is co-ordinated by 350.org, a charity campaigning for a safe climate and a fairer, more equal world. It is a grassroots movement with members in 188 countries worldwide.

What is happening in Sheffield during the Global Divestment Mobilisation? During Global Divestment week, Sheffield Climate Alliance and South Yorkshire Fossil Free! are hosting events throughout the region.

On Saturday, South Yorkshire Fossil Free! will be out on the streets of Sheffield and Doncaster with a couple of giant dinosaurs and plenty of balloons, with our campaign ‘Only dinosaurs invest in fossil fuels’! This aims to persuade the South Yorkshire Pension Authority to divest their funds from fossil fuels. We will be talking to people to raise awareness about divestment and asking them to sign our petition to the SYPA.

So what is divestment? In a nutshell, divestment is when a company, institution, public body or individual removes their investments from a particular type of fund, in this case fossil fuel companies.

Done on a large enough scale this will revoke the social licence of these companies to operate in a ‘business as usual’ mode. If enough people act to say that burning fossil fuels as we do now is unacceptable, the companies will have to change their method of working. Divestment was a key factor in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

The argument for divestment is not just environmental - there is a strong financial argument too

The argument for divestment is not just environmental; there is a strong financial argument too. Already, 80 per cent of the known coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burned if we are to keep global warming to around two degrees Celsius.

These unburnable reserves will become ‘stranded assets’, that is they will not be able to be used and the value of these assets will plummet. This is a view shared by many financial experts, including Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. If the value of shares in the major fossil fuel companies falls, the value of our pension funds will also be affected.

With regard to reinvestment, pension authorities have a duty to make the best financial return for their members. However, this can be achieved without investing in fossil fuel companies. If the world is to make a successful transition to renewable energy, there is a need for rapid investment in green energy technologies. With its background in manufacturing and engineering Sheffield would be well placed to take advantage of a growth in this area. For example, manufacturing of tidal barrages and wind turbines could create jobs in the local steel industry. Another local angle is investment in community energy schemes like Sheffield Renewables, and money could be invested in retrofitting of council house stock.

Sheffield has made very positive steps with regard to divestment. Both universities have agreed to divest following pressure from People and Planet, a student-led climate movement. In addition to this, Sheffield City Council passed a motion in November in support of divestment.

The motion, passed at full council, stated that ‘the council does not and will not invest in fossil fuels’. Sheffield was the first city in the world to have both universities and the council pledging to divest.

But there is still more to do. SYPA has about £6.1 billion in investments and currently has four per cent of its investments in fossil fuel giants such as Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

These companies are among the top 10 companies worldwide in terms of carbon intensity.

So of course, the divestment movement is much more than just one week in a year. Visit www.SheffieldClimateAlliance.net to help us celebrate this landmark by joining in with our events or getting involved with our campaign.