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Ecologist Special Report: Divesting from investment in fossil fuels gains momentum in the UK

By Remo Bebié, Finance Dialogue - Ecologist, May 15, 2017

Bill McKibben, Author and co-founder of 350.org is categoric that one of the key ways to tackle climate change is through financial channels: "There is no question we are currently in a state of emergency on climate change. Day in day out people are dying from the effects of climate change. There are many ways to confront this emergency and divestment allows us to get in the way of the money financing the fossil fuel projects behind this crisis.

"The fact that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in the last few years is the best news ever. From the Pacific Islands to South Africa, from the United States to Germany, people are standing up and challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry."

And in the UK too, the divestment movement is now gathering momentum.

Only last week, 50 MPs announced their backing of a campaign calling on parliament's £612m pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.

Faith groups too are also increasingly moving out of fossil fuel investments. Earlier this month, more than a quarter of Britain's Quaker meetings pledged to divest and the Catholic Church is also taking stand ("the Catholic fossil fuel divestment movement has gained further momentum as nine more institutions pull out of fossil fuels, citing a "political impasse" around US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement." )

In late January, the Irish Parliament voted in favour of a law requiring the country's £6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from all fossil fuels over the next five years. The story went viral on social media.

Three weeks ago, Norway's largest private pension fund, Storebrand, launched two new fossil free funds, bringing their fossil free fund portfolio to $1.2 billion. Storebrand also warned that the Norwegian government is overly exposed to fossil fuels through its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, even though it has already taken significant steps to reduce exposure in the past.

Momentum is gathering at such a speed in the UK it appears to be approaching a tipping point: Waltham Forest and Southwark, two local government pension schemes for boroughs in London, have pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels within the last year, while Hackney's pension fund committed to cut its exposure by 50 percent, as the FT reported recently. Among the UK's Local Government Pension Schemes, these three are on the smaller range, each managing assets between £0.74 and £1.26 billion.  

But examples also include the £2.73 billion Environment Agency's Pension Fund, which is currently ranked second in the Asset Owner Disclosure Project's 2017 ranking (first in 2016) among the world's 500 largest asset owners. The fund is widely considered a global leader in terms of aligning investment strategies with the goals called for in the Paris agreement and reducing financial risks associated with the energy transition.

UK workplace pension scheme NEST, already progressive in terms of integration of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, has recently added a specific climate tilted fund to it's portfolio. NEST cited "addressing risks and capturing opportunities associated with the move to fight climate change" as reasons for launching the fund. 

Private institutions are taking note too: Last fall, HSBC Bank UK Pension Scheme chose a new climate tilted fund as the equity default option for its £2.6 billion defined contribution (DC) scheme. The scheme's CIO, Mark Thompson, expects the move to deliver "better risk-adjusted return, protection against climate change risks, and a more powerful ESG engagement policy within a passive mandate".

Furthermore, by April 2018, most UK local government schemes are due to be integrated into eight pools, each managing between £12 and £36 billion of pooled assets (see here for a good pooling overview by IPE). Implementation of divestment pledges for individual schemes will depend on the pool structure. The schemes of the London boroughs are already being pooled through London CIV, which recently wrote that it is "focusing on investment strategies the pension fund authorities have shown most demand for, namely: global equity income; sustainable equities; emerging markets and value strategies." 

Many other pools are now in the process of hiring executives: Brunel, the pool which contains the Environment Agency's Pension Fund, and LGPS Central have named new chairs within the last month. The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) is currently "seeking to recruit additional Board Members with knowledge and experience of either: 1) Environmental Social and Corporate Governance issues in a pension fund, with a strong commitment to delivering divestment from fossil fuels; or 2) strategic and sustainable infrastructure investment by pension funds, with a breadth of experience across all forms of infrastructure investment." 

All this indicates that more activity may be expected from the UK's public and private institutional investors. And public pressure is rising as well as various UK local government pension schemes are engaged by campaigners as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) with calls for fossil fuel divestment (see here for complete list of LGPS engagements within the Mobilisation).

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

Climate Activists Pledge Huge Response to Trump’s Executive Order

By Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

Climate activists are joining with labor, social justice, faith, and other organizations to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C. this April 29th that will offer up resistance to Trump’s new executive orders and put forward the vision of a clean energy economy that works for all.

The “Peoples Climate March” aims to bring upwards of 100,000 people to Washington, D.C. and turn out tens of thousands more across the country to push back on Trump’s agenda and stand up for climate, jobs and justice.

350.org is one of the organizations on the steering committee for the mobilization and is working on turning out members to D.C. and actions across the country.

350.org Executive Director May Boeve said:

“The best way to fight against these executive orders is to take to the streets. Even as Trump dismantles environmental protections to shore up the fossil fuel industry, support for action to stop global warming is at an all-time high. Now it’s up to communities to bring our vision of a healthy climate and a just transition to renewable energy to life. From the upcoming congressional recess through the Peoples Climate March and beyond, we’ll be putting pressure on lawmakers to defend the climate and building power to stop the fossil fuel industry for good.”

The wide-ranging coalition behind the Peoples Climate March includes major labor unions and environmental, climate justice, faith, youth, social justice, peace groups, and more (the “Peoples” in the title is a direct reference to the role of Indigenous peoples in helping lead the effort). In 2014, the same coalition brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City to call for climate action ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

Why there’s hope for the climate movement under Trump

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, November 22, 2016

The climate movement woke on Nov. 9 to a new reality few of us had expected to be faced with: the specter of a Trump presidency and perhaps the most anti-environment administration and Congress in U.S. history. Suddenly our job of stopping new oil pipelines and fracking wells, preventing the construction of fossil fuel plants and shutting down existing fossil fuel infrastructure felt much harder.

Although the possibility of a Trump presidency had loomed for months, polls consistently showing Hillary Clinton in the lead made it seem remote. Many climate organizations laid their plans based on the presumption that they would most likely be dealing with a Clinton administration. “Assuming that as a nation we’ve managed to elect Hillary Clinton,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote in an Election Day email to supporters, “we’ll need to start pressuring her from the earliest moments of her presidency.”

What the polls failed to account for was unexpectedly low voter turnout, caused in part by voter disaffection with both presidential candidates and a growing nationwide frustration with the existing political system. Despite Clinton winning the popular vote, low progressive turnout in key swing states granted Trump enough Electoral College votes to claim the presidency.

“We at The Climate Mobilization were not expecting a President Trump,” wrote leaders of The Climate Mobilization, a group that advocates for a Word War II-scale deployment of clean energy to fight climate change. “His election shows us that this country is desperate for change, but is still deeply in denial about the truth of the climate emergency.”

If there is any silver lining from the Trump victory, it would seem to be the evidence that vast numbers of people are hungry for a radical shift in politics. But Trump wants to take us in the opposite direction of progress on climate change. During his campaign, he pledged to scrap the Paris climate deal and the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. He promised to re-start approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and resurrect a dying coal industry. And his suite of potential cabinet nominees include climate science deniers and oil drilling proponents.

To many activists, the coming Trump presidency calls to mind the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration, when fossil fuel industries were basically invited to write national policy. But much has changed in the U.S. climate movement since the days of Bush. The last six years have seen the birth of climate campaigns that are bigger, bolder and more direct-action oriented than any environmental movement in decades.

Although this recent movement growth occurred during the Obama administration, its origins can be traced to a time when the climate movement was reeling from a series of shocking defeats. Obama’s campaign promises in 2008 had caused mainstream environmental groups to welcome his administration with the expectation of unprecedented progress. But this dream soon faded.

Over 500 people in Sacramento stand in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux

By Dan Bacher - Indybay.Org, November 18, 2016

Over 500 Sacramento area residents, including Native Americans, social justice advocates and environmentalists, joined tens of thousands of others throughout the world on November 15 to demand that the Obama administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halt the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

They lined both sides of the street in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office on J Street, proclaiming their solidarity with the struggle of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and their allies to stop the pipeline that carries fracked crude Bakken oil. Many drivers passing by on the busy street honked their horns in support of the protesters.

The protest took place the day after the Corps announced it is delaying an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline project until it conducts further environmental review and discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corps said “construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement.”

The Standing Rock Sioux and the water protectors opposing the pipeline are worried that the final Corps decision won’t be made until next year after Donald Trump is inaugurated. Trump’s transition team has vowed to expand offshore and offshore oil production throughout the nation.

Even more worrisome, Trump has invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, according to financial disclosure forms, Wes Enzinna of Mother Jones reported. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren also donated more than $100,000 to help elect Trump.

“Trump also owns stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million in Phillips 66, which will own a 25 percent share of the finished pipeline. One of Trump's key energy advisers is North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who has encouraged him to dismantle key aspects of the Clean Water Act, which gives the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate the nation's waterways and wetlands,” Ezinna wrote.

Tuesday’s protest was one of the largest regarding an indigenous struggle ever held in the Capital City. “We had an incredible turnout at our event,” said Chris Brown, an organizer from the Sacramento Climate Coalition. “A special shout out goes to the Nevada County protectors of water, who came out in droves.”

Brown noted that the Corps approved the construction pipeline without proper consultation or adequate environmental studies.

“The Standing Rock Sioux are resisting the DAPL, which threatens their water, ancestral burial sites, and Native sovereignty,” according to Brown. “They have been met with militarized police using automatic rifles, sound cannons, tear gas and mace, flash-bang grenades, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets. The courage of the Water Protectors has inspired people all over the world.”

Cosponsors of the local action included Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation, Sacramento Climate Coalition, 350 Sacramento, Davis MoveOn, Davis Stands with Standing Rock, Raging Grannies of Sacramento, Sacramento Stands with Standing Rock, Alianza, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

"The state of North Dakota has deployed the National Guard, State and Local Police and police from several other states as well as the FBI to protect Energy Transfer Partners, a privately owned pipeline construction corporation,” said Francisco Dominguez (Tarahumara) of Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation. “The last time I checked we were still a Democracy."

Mariana Rivera from the Zapatista Coalition noted the links between the Sioux Tribe’s struggle in North Dakota and struggles of indigenous peoples and their allies to stop the raising of Shasta Dam, the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnels of Governor Jerry Brown and fracking in California.

“Native people are taking the lead on something that concerns us all, protecting our water and land. All of us to need to take a stand with Standing Rock now,” said Rivera.

“Extracting fossils fuels jeopardizes water systems and native rights — and that’s why we’re here in solidarity with them,” explained Alicia Esquivido, a local Greenpeace activist, who was there with fellow activist Trent Pearson.

Rick Guerrero, an SEIU organizer and former president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) Board said, “I'm here to stand with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota. Last week’s election crystallized how our resistance needs to be immediate and sustainable. This destruction needs to be be stopped not only for native people, but for the earth and all workers.”

Toronto Teach-In Poses Climate Justice Alternative

By John Riddell - East End Against Line 9, June 6, 2016

The People's Climate Plan Teach-in, held in Toronto June 4,[1] took great strides forward in presenting a forceful alternative to the inadequate and deceptive climate action proposals of Canada's federal government. In the opening session, five leading climate activists presented a coherent, unified climate justice strategy, proposing effective action to save the world from climate disaster interlocked with practical measures to assist working people and the poor who are the first victims of global warming. Displayed in the meeting, held in the University of Toronto, were the banners: “Pipelines = Climate Change”; “Stop Line 9”; and (in French) “Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”

After lunch, the more than 100 participants split up into training groups of half a dozen to develop skills for effective intervention in the “public consultation” meetings the Trudeau government proposes to hold over the coming three months.

People's Climate Plan

The proposed framework for this intervention is the People's Climate Plan (PCP),[2] a simple structure of three principles (or “pillars”) to guide those taking part in such gatherings.

“We've been to three of these consultations, and we know how they're organized,” PCP activists explained. “Government facilitators divide participants into small groups and then give each group a topic designed to force discussion into a channel favourable to government policy. “For example, they ask ‘How can we combine economic growth with emissions reductions?’ – implying that tar sands expansion is part of the bargain. If you accept the question on their terms, you've already lost the argument.”

If environmentalists argue at cross purposes or try to make too many different points, their voices can be sidelined and ignored. Those speaking for climate justice need to unite around a common focus and strategy. The PCP proposes three principles to assure this focus:

  • Science: keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Economics: a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.
  • Justice: for Indigenous peoples, workers affected by the transition, and victims of climate change.

When government facilitators pose inappropriate themes, the PCP spokespersons suggested that we use an “ABC” approach:

  • A: Acknowledge the question posed by the organizers.
  • B: Bridge over to the question you wish to address, which should be aligned with one of the three PCP principles.
  • C: Provide Context to sustain your view, preferably with a personal anecdote or insight that illustrates why you care so much about the issue.

Achieving this degree of focus may seem a tall order for environmental and social activists. Often we use discussion periods to express a broad and seemingly chaotic range of personal viewpoints. We rightly prize our diversity. Yet when entering a discussion structured by a government with quite alien goals, PCP activists suggested, we must harmonize and unify our approaches.

This Is What Insurgency Looks Like

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 22, 2016

In a small church in the Albany, NY’s low-income, predominantly African-American South End, forty people were gathered for a community meeting. They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil – dubbed by the residents “bomb trains” — that were running through their neighborhood. City Counselor Vivian Kornegay told the group that many municipalities had opposed the bomb trains and other dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, but had little power to protect their residents; it was up to a “people’s movement” to do so. “What we want is for all of us to be free, healthy, and safe – and for our planet to be a better place to live.”

Maeve McBride, an organizer for 350.org, explained that the protest was part of a global campaign of direct action and civil disobedience aiming to keep 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground. Pastor Mark Johnson of the St. John’s Church of God in Christ said, “I heard at a meeting last night that we have a constitutional right to clean water and clean air.” Maeve McBride explained that the action was part of a “new wave” that was drawing on a “new paradigm” – “using civil disobedience to protect the public trust,” which included water, air, and the climate itself.

Organizers had met with officials from the police and sheriff’s offices and reported, “they abhor the trains – and are very supportive of us.” Then the group received direct action training. They read out loud the “action agreement” pledging nonviolent behavior and mutual support. Then they lined up to march and while police officers (played by the trainers) ordered them to move away, they scrambled onto an imaginary railroad track. Later that evening the steering committee for Albany Break Free planned outreach to supporting organizations, phone banks, canvassing, leafleting, and details of the action.

The Albany organizers had learned about the “new paradigm” when 350.org North American co-organizers of Break Free From Fossil Fuels had decided to use the “public trust” principle to frame US Break Free actions and formed a Break Free Public Trust Work Group to spread the idea. Some on the The Break Free Albany steering committee had participated in the working group’s webinar on using the public trust doctrine, and they decided to integrate the Public Trust Proclamation into their “topline message” and to hand out the Break Free Public Trust Proclamation to all participants. (The Proclamation appears at the end of this article.]

A week before the action the Albany Break Free steering committee defined their basic message. Potentially explosive crude oil “bomb trains” roll through Albany and surrounding communities, polluting the air and contributing to the climate crisis. Primarily low-income communities of color are put at risk. The urgent need to address climate change means that fossil fuels have to be left in the ground and a transition made to a “twenty-first century renewable energy economy.” They called for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines, power plants, compressor stations, and storage tanks. And they called for a just transition away from fossil fuel energy with training and jobs for affected workers, so “no worker is left behind.”

Can the Climate Movement Break Free From the 'Jobs vs. Environment' Debate?

By Kate Aronoff - Common Dreams, April 30, 2016

For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage “more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Many of the month’s events — pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world — are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting “some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world” with civil disobedience.

The Break Free site’s opening page invites viewers to “join a global wave of resistance to keep coal, oil and natural gas in the ground.” And that’s where some unions have taken issue.

The United Steelworkers, or USW, this week released a response. “Short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org’s ‘Break Free’ actions,” they write, “make it much more challenging to work together to create and envision a clean energy economy.” Three of the locations targeted — in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington — are USW-represented refineries. The union argues that, despite record growth in renewables, the economy will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for some time. “Shutting down a handful of refineries in the United States,” they say, “would lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on global carbon emissions.” Rather, refineries and their workers should be brought into the clean energy economy.

The statement ends arguing that, “We can’t choose between good jobs or a healthy environment. If we don’t have both, we’ll have neither.” In more familiar terms, Breaking Free — for the USW — sounds like a case of jobs versus the environment.

While similar releases are standard fare for other unions, the 30,000-member USW is one of the country’s most progressive — even when it comes to environmental issues.

“People assume that because we’re an industrial union that our leadership doesn’t care about the environment,” Roxanne Brown told me. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Brown is the assistant legislative director at USW, and emphasized the union’s long history of work on environmental issues. The USW hosted a conference in support of air pollutant regulations in the late 1960s, early on rejecting the kind of weaponized jobs versus environment rhetoric that has cropped up around the Keystone XL pipeline and other extraction fights.

A New Wave of Climate Insurgents Defines Itself as Law-Enforcers

By Jeremy Brecher - CounterPunch, March 2, 2016

One in six Americans say they would personally engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse. That’s about 40 million adults. The fate of the earth may depend on them — and others around the world — doing so.

Such actions are about to take a quantum leap both in numbers and in global coordination. From May 7-15, 350.org, Greenpeace and many other organizations — notably grassroots movement organizations from every continent — will hold a global week of action called Break Free From Fossil Fuels. They envision tens of thousands of people mobilizing worldwide to demand a rapid transition to renewable energy. Events will include nonviolent direct actions targeting extraction sites or infrastructure; pressure on political targets to shift policies around fossil fuel development; and support for clean energy alternatives. Mass actions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and the United States will target fossil fuel projects and support ambitious solutions. Before and during the week of action, additional, locally-initiated actions are expected in many other locations around the globe.

In the United States there will be actions in California, the Northwest, the Mountain West, the Midwest, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast. They will include support for a moratorium on the auction of public land for fossil fuel development; mass trespass at fracking sites; land and flotilla blockades of refineries; actions at the facilities of pipeline companies; and blockades of trains carrying fracked oil. In each case the partners include not only national and international environmental organizations but dozens of community, indigenous, climate justice, labor, religious, citizen action and other groups that have long been campaigning locally against these targets.

New Report: Protect the Climate, Save Money, and Create Jobs

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 14, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Today labor and environmental organizations released a new report, The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money, showing that the United States can reduce greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions 80 percent by 2050 — while adding half-a-million jobs and saving Americans billions of dollars on their electrical, heating, and transportation costs.

Joe Uehlein of the Labor Network for Sustainability says, “This report is good news for American workers. Protecting the climate has often been portrayed as a threat to American workers’ jobs and the U.S. economy. But this report shows that a clean energy future will produce more jobs than “business as usual” with fossil fuels.”

May Boeve of 350.org says, “This report presents a practical, realistic way for the United States to address the climate crisis and proves that we don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment.”

The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money refutes the claim that meeting the IPCC targets will cause economic devastation. Indeed, not only can these targets can be met, but meeting them will create more jobs and save money. This report, prepared by the Labor Network for Sustainability and 350.org, with research conducted by a team led by economist Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics, lays out an aggressive strategy for energy efficiency and renewable energy that will:

Transform the electric system, cutting coal-fired power in half by 2030 and eliminating it by 2050; building no new nuclear plants; and reducing the use of natural gas far below business-as-usual levels.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in the sectors analyzed (which account for three-quarters of US GHG emissions).
  • Save money – the cost of electricity, heating, and transportation under this plan is $78 billion less than current projections from now through 2050.
  • Create new jobs – more than 500,000 per year over business as usual projections through 2050.

This program will help bring together environmental and labor advocates around their common interest in putting Americans to work saving the earth’s climate. Climate protection has caused significant friction between labor unions and environmentalists around whether to create jobs or address climate change. The report demonstrates that this is a false choice. For unions and other jobs advocates, climate protection is also a great jobs program. We can create many more jobs by protecting the environment than by expanding the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/1Qo2p04

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