“The Paris Agreement is yet another nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry, as the world moves towards a zero carbon future. This is a nail that civil society must hammer in. Cambridge University has an incredible opportunity to divest, and do just that.
If a world of two degree warming is incompatible with the polluters’ extractive aims, then the new global target of 1.5 degrees Celsius must surely signal that the game is up. Commentators across the world are heralding the end of the fossil fuel era: for the Guardian it signalled a “transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy”, while the Economist reflected on “the signal [the agreement] sends to investors: the united governments of the world say that the age of fossil fuels has started drawing to a close”. As we head towards a renewable future, the coal, oil and gas industries have not only lost their social license, they have lost their financial security. Respected organisations from Unilever to the International Investors Group on Climate Change have been warning investors of COP21’s huge implications for fossil fuel investments.
Despite this good news, there is much to be lamented in this agreement. Zero Carbon stands with activists from across the world in condemning the exclusion of rights of indigenous peoples and the lack of financial recourse for developing nations – governments in the Global North have spoken fine words on these issues, but have not matched them with their actions. Most importantly of all, the lack of certainty in this agreement – from its non-binding legal status to the lack of firm dates or percentages – will allow governments to sacrifice the long-term safety of humanity for short-term gain, thereby condemning many cultures, peoples and species to destruction.
It is up to civil society to hold them to their words. The global divestment movement is more important than it has ever been. The fossil fuel industry must give way for a sustainable future. Since governments will not make this happen, the task falls to the rest of society. As the respected environmental writer George Monbiot has commented, this agreement demonstrates the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry. There is no mention of coal, oil or natural gas in the agreement, yet the burning of these must stop if even the 2°C limit is to be maintained. Science demands this: it is not negotiable.
Institutions such as the University of Cambridge, which take an important leadership role in the future direction of society, must now know in which direction the wind of history is blowing. They cannot stand against it. In light of this, the Working Group set up by the university to investigate ethical investment has a clear mandate: it should recommend divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Not only is it morally right, but it’s also best for Cambridge’s financial status. Otherwise, the University stands to lose a lot of money when government policies kick in and over 80% of fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground.
It is up to the Cambridge University family – its students, staff, fellows and all its constituent groups – to make sure this message is heard loud and clear. The future is once again hopeful: we must turn that hope into reality.”