Divest Parliament

| 23rd May 2019
UK Parliament
MPs must confront the elephant in the climate emergency room: fossil fuels.


The klaxon call has gone out, the climate emergency is here, so why are we still beating around the bush? Let’s seize this moment to take on the fossil fuel companies, their acolytes and financiers.

When I took my first foray into climate activism, I wasn’t sure where to start. How to engage with something so large and complex? Making lifestyle changes is great if you are able, but it isn’t nearly enough.

What’s needed is systemic change, and when it comes to the climate that means targeting fossil fuel companies.

Unprecedented organising 

These corporations continue to burn oil, coal and gas with impunity. Just 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions since the mid-1980s.

Their core business model is at the very heart of the climate crisis. They know they’re on the wrong side of history - so they try to hide it.

Exxon Mobil and Shell have a history of misleading the public about climate science and since the Paris Agreement have spent millions directly lobbying to stop the development of clean energy.

But their time is up. We are experiencing an unprecedented wave of grassroots organising and citizen engagement with climate action. From millions of students holding school strikes around the world, to peaceful civil disobedience in our cities, to David Attenborough’s much talked about new documentary. 

Climate breakdown has received more media coverage in the UK recently than at any other time in the past five years. This public pressure is working, resulting in the Welsh and Scottish governments as well as UK and Irish parliaments all declaring a climate emergency.

Divestment movement 

But if we want these declarations to mean anything then the same decision-makers who are readily jumping on the bandwagon of public opinion need to address the elephant in the room: fossil fuels.

For too long, the rhetoric around climate breakdown from politicians has avoided the simple, undeniable fact that we must prevent new fossil fuel infrastructure and keep existing reserves in the ground, while delivering a just transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Yet our politicians continue to support the obscenely rich fossil fuel industry who in turn continue to search for new reserves. They are on track to increase new oil reserves by 30 percent in 2019 alone.

So we have Goliath in our sights, but where can we find David?

Enter the many thousands of people, from all across the world, who are pushing their public institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies. From university common rooms, to village church halls, to town councils, and finally this week to the heart of Westminster itself; the divestment movement has come a long way.

Divest Parliament 

By directly and strategically targeting the culprits behind climate breakdown, divestment offers us a chance to strike at the heart of the problem in a way that is approachable, scalable, and effective.

It is a potent, hopeful antidote to the paralyzing despair that the climate crisis has wrought on so many of us. It’s just what we need to hone our focus in the midst of a climate emergency.

Now our MPs must pick up the baton and tackle the fossil fuel industry head on. The MPs’ Pension Fund has millions of pounds invested in fossil fuel companies, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

Divesting this fund offers our MPs the chance to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to climate action.

Following the dedicated efforts of hundreds of constituents and organisers from across the UK, a third of all current MPs (and 29 former MPs) from all parties have signed the Divest Parliament Pledge, calling for their pension savings to be taken out of fossil fuels.

Climate emergency 

With growing pressure from so many MPs, the fund's trustees have been forced to listen and reconsider their rules of investment, to account for climate risk.

But this is just one campaign of many. We also need to end fossil fuel subsidies, ban fracking, and stop airport expansion. We need to plant millions of trees, rewild and restore ecosystems, and invest in zero-carbon infrastructure including affordable, reliable public transport.

We must do all this taking into account the UK’s massive historical carbon debt and legacy of colonialism and exploitation in the global South by providing international financial support to enable a truly just transition for everyone.

This is a climate emergency so let’s start treating it like one. We need a Green New Deal - and we can use the money divested from fossil fuels to fund it.

This Author 

Karn Bianco is a Divest Parliament campaigner.