Fossil fuels are a major contributor to climate change. Ending the fossil fuel era is now an ethical imperative. While moving away from these energy sources is challenging, it is possible, and it must happen now.
Fossil fuels are a major contributor to climate change. About 60 per cent of our carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy.
Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable communities in developing countries. Climate change is also causing more extreme weather events closer to home, as evidenced by the major flooding experienced in recent years.
Every day that we continue to fund the fossil fuels industry and take only limited action to reduce our emissions, we are choosing to make the lives of the less fortunate in developing countries harder.
And every cent invested in the fossil fuel industry is an investment opportunity wasted – particularly for long-term job creation, a more sustainable economy and protecting our country's natural resources, and coastal towns and cities.
But, the fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful lobby groups in the world, spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year lobbying against the policies and laws needed to combat climate change.
The industry has also been highly effective in undermining climate science and the public’s understanding of climate change or ‘global warming’.
If that weren’t bad enough, governments incentivise and subsidise the fossil fuel industry internationally.
According to The Guardian, globally more money is spent subsidising the fossil fuel industry than on health services.
In December 2015, over 190 countries signed the 'Paris Agreement' on Climate Change.
All governments committed to ensuring that the current rise in global temperatures caused by our carbon emissions would be limited to well below 2°C.
This was an important sign of increased political ambition to act on climate change. But governments have failed so far to call a halt to the growth of the fossil fuel industry – which is fundamentally needed if the Paris commitment is to be met.
This is why an increasing number of universities, charities, faith-based organisations and others have committed to take their investments out of the fossil fuel industry.
This act sends a clear signal to the industry and to governments that fossil fuels must be phased out and that action on climate change must increase.
However, Ireland is still not prioritising action on climate change.
It is not on track to meet existing 2020 carbon emission reduction targets under EU climate legislation, never mind the more ambitious targets of the ‘Paris Agreement’.
Failure to meet any EU targets during the period 2020-2030 has the potential to cost the State between €50-€500 million annually.
There are sound financial reasons to move money out of the fossil fuel industry.
While fossil fuels have played a central role in the growth of the economies of developed countries, and were for many years seen as a safe and profitable investment, the opposite is now true.
With the realisation that we have to fundamentally change how we fuel our societies – fossil fuel investments will become ‘stranded assets’ – devaluing rapidly and becoming risky investments.
Many others have read these signs and started to act accordingly – even Norway, a mass producer and exporter of oil – has decided to protect its State Pension Funds from the risk associated with investments in fossil fuels.
Do you want our government to continue to invest your taxes in these high risk assets?
For starters, Ireland can 'divest' or 'disinvest' from fossil fuels, and reinvest taxpayers’ money in clean energy.
For example, in 2014 €72 million of the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), the taxpayer-funded successor to the National Pension Reserve Fund, was invested in some of the world’s most controversial and polluting fossil fuel companies.
These include the much-protested TransCanada which is behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which has been vetoed by US President Barack Obama; and Peabody Energy, a company that claims climate change is not real and plans to extract all its coal reserves; as well as companies involved in the controversial practice of ‘fracking’.
Indications are that the combined carbon emissions of the ISIF’s investments could be more than those coming from the Irish State itself.
The Fund describes itself as ‘responsible’ and subscribes to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI).
Investing responsibly in the public interest means the ISIF should divest itself from all current fossil fuel investments and prohibit any future investment in them. It should also adopt a 100 per cent renewable energy investment policy.
For more recommendations and details on these issues read Trócaire’s full paper ‘The Burning Question: Are we investing in Climate Injustice or in a Fair Future for All?