August updates

Our core campaign to persuade the University of Cape Town to divest from fossil fuels is continuing. As a result of ongoing lobbying, we expect to be joining a meeting of the university’s ethical investment team with its advisers on 18 August. In the meantime, we have been searching for and meeting with potential funders to ensure that our work can continue beyond September, when our initial funding will run out.

Other recent activities have included a briefing on climate change and divestment to the investment team at Futuregrowth, and participating in a panel discussion on divestment for NGOs hosted by Inyathelo.

International developments

In the meantime, there have been some extremely encouraging developments in what Solar Century’s Jeremy Leggett calls ‘the Carbon War‘ – the civilisational struggle to stop climate change from advancing too far. Not all these developments have been in the realm of divestment alone – for example, the Pope’s recent Encyclical ‘Laudato Si‘ on economy, environment, climate change and inequality. (Here’s an overview of its significance.)

Another extremely significant moment has come as citizens in the Netherlands won a court case forcing their government to take stronger action on climate change with an order to cut carbon dioxide emissions 25% –within five years! This case is already inspiring similar court cases in other countries, such as Belgium. South African lawyers do not think the time is yet quite ripe for such action here in South Africa (we have asked the question), but note that the situation may change if there is a strong international agreement on climate change at the Paris talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of this year.

Closer to home, we have learned that the South African Government Employees’ Pension Fund is one of the most carbon-exposed funds in the world, with over R80 billion invested in coal. This means that civil servants in South Africa are very exposed indeed to the likely imminent end of the fossil fuel era. If you work in government in South Africa, you should be asking some very tough questions about how this critical aspect of your future is being managed, given the swift erosion of value in the stocks of many fossil fuel companies, and the danger of them becoming stranded assets.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a comprehensive report showing how companies like BP, Shell, and Chevron continue to produce misleading propaganda about climate change, even forging letters to the US Congress.

WWF has produced an important report on the role of retirement funds in funding the expansion of renewable energy in South Africa:

Some R540 billion in private capital will be required to achieve the renewable energy vision for 2030 outlined in a previous study (Sager 2014), of which debt accounts for the lion’s share at R405 billon. SA wholesale banks active in financing REIPPPP projects have reached average exposure levels of 4-5% of their portfolios, nearing prudential portfolio limits… Retirement funds, with R3 trillion assets and long term liabilities, could supply R150bn of this debt requirement.

Management issues

On a practical note, Fossil Free SA has now achieved tax-exempt status, and we can issue 18A certificates for all future donations. (Donate here.) We also held our second management committee meeting on 1 July; please email if you would like to see the minutes.

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