The talented Zoe Broughton has made this video about the actions we took in Oxford, as part of the Global Divestment Day. The day combined actions from our campaign, the church’s and the student campaign.
Today we’re celebrating our win at the City Council with the rest of the global Fossil Free community!
Oxford City Council has become the first local authority in the UK to pass a motion (pdf) on fossil fuel divestment. The Council pledged to make no direct investments in fossil fuel companies for ethical reasons.
Councillor Ruthi Brandt who seconded the divestment motion says, “We are proud that Oxford is the first local authority in the country to highlight the need to stop investing in fossil fuels. This is an industry that should be winding down rather than investing in more and more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction. We hope we can get the City Council to extend its divestment plan to include indirect investments as well, since much of the money invested in fossil fuels is through such investments.”
Fossil Free Oxfordshire celebrated the move but stressed that the campaign group will continue to work with the City Council to extend this principled divestment commitment to include indirect investments, as well. Al Chisholm, a driving force behind the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign says, “We are delighted that the council has publicly recognised that the fossil fuel industry’s business model and activities are harmful and inconsistent with the Council’s mission and values. This move denies the industry the economic and moral support of another public institution.”
“But we are not about to stop here: As we approach the campaign’s first anniversary, this significant win only strengthens our resolve to persuade Oxfordshire County Council to move the £42 million its pension fund has invested directly in fossil fuel companies,” she continues.
Fossil Free Oxfordshire first approached the Oxford City Council Finance Panel in February 2014, asking them to put fossil fuel divestment on their agenda. In response, the Finance Panel devised an ethical investment policy, which recognises the need to divest from companies involved in the extraction and refinement of fossil fuels.
At a meeting of the full Council on July 14, 2014, a motion proposed by Green Party Councillor Craig Simmons was passed. It proposed the introduction of the Finance Panel’s ethical investment policy into the Council’s treasury management strategy. The final motion, as amended by Labour Councillors, stops short of moving indirect investments. At the same meeting, the Council endorsed the Leader of the Council’s call to the Oxfordshire County Council pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.
Fossil Free Oxfordshire publicly announced and celebrated the success this week as part of the People’s Climate Mobilisation, the largest mobilisation on climate action ever, ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York. Hundreds of thousands of people will be demonstrating over the weekend, with more than 2,000 events registered in 150 countries.
Fossil fuel divestment is gaining traction across Oxford with thriving campaigns across the university and church community. A fossil fuel divestment motion will be taken to the Oxford Diocese in November, increasing pressure on the Church of England to make a firm commitment. The Socially-Responsible Investment Review Committee (SRIRC) of Oxford University will also make its first presentation on fossil fuel divestment in November. Oxford University has the largest endowment of any UK university.
Michaela Collord from the Fossil Free Oxford University campaign says, “The Oxfordshire Fossil Free campaign has been a wonderful source of energy and enthusiasm for us students. This is a big win for UK divestment, the first of its kind in the country.Oxford is sending a strong message to condemn the fossil fuel industry and its cynical efforts to block action on climate change. The council announcement comes at an excellent time to increase the pressure on other institutions in Oxford and the UK to take a stand on their involvement with the fossil fuel industry.”
Danielle Paffard, 350.org UK Divestment Campaigner says of the announcement, “Oxford is part of a rapidly growing global movement of institutions taking their links with the fossil fuel industry seriously. Already 29 cities, 13 universities and a number of faith groups, foundations and other organisations around the world have committed to end investments in the fossil fuel industry. This is an exciting first step for councils in the UK, and we’re hoping to see many more councils committing to divest, in the next year”.
On Tuesday 1st July 2014 the Green Party put a motion to the full meeting of Oxfordshire County Council, calling on the council to consider divesting from fossil fuels.
Outside the council:
Councillors arriving at County Hall were greeted by a group of 12 fossil free protesters, including city councillors from Labour and the Green Party, to encourage them to vote for the motion. We held banners and placards, talked to the local press and were treated to the views of some of the councillors on their way into the meeting. The winner of the most unedifying comment: “Global warming? Great – get your bikinis on ladies”!!
Fossil Free Oxfordshire was granted a 5 minute public address to the Council early in the meeting and before the motions were heard. Al set out the arguments – environmental and economic – for divestment and reminded the councillors that this was an opportunity to set out on a truly ground-breaking path to protect their employees’ pensions as well as much of what we hold dear about our way of life.
The motion is being discussed:
The motion itself was heard in the afternoon. It was proposed by David Williams and seconded by Sam Coates, both Green Party Councillors. In the following discussion the Chair of the Pensions Fund Committee, Councillor Stewart Lilly (Conservative), argued that the Council itself does not own the assets and cannot influence their investment. Our understanding is that, while the council isn’t in a position to demand anything of the pension fund, is it certainly able to make suggestions. Otherwise, we’re not quite sure what is the role of the council’s Pension Fund Committee. In any case, Cllr Williams pointed out that his motion doesn’t *demand*anything from the pension fund, but rather brings the undesirability of investing in fossil fuels to the trustees’ attention, and calls on the fund to look into this issue.
Councillors John Tanner (Labour) and Jean Fooks (Liberal Democrat) both spoke in favour of divestment in principle and its future consideration, but not in favour of this motion. John Tanner cited support from Oxford City Council and the trades unions.
It is worth noting here, that though pension funds managers have a fiduciary duty to maximise profits from their investments (or more specifically, they are “required to balance returns against risk. “), this financial duty is only part of the story. A recent report by the Law Commission clarifies what is apparently a rather confusing piece of legislation, and states that trustees should consider environmental, social and governance factors where they are financially material.
When it came to the vote, the motion was heavily defeated, with four votes for (two LibDems and two Green councillors), 40 against and 9 abstentions. But these numbers belie a growing level of understanding of, and support for, the notion of divestment: some of those who voted against or abstained because they were unhappy with details of the motion’s wording have openly pledged support for the principle of divesting from fossil fuels (we are currently trying to get information about what exactly they were unhappy with).
This is certainly not the last the County Council will hear about fossil fuel divestment – we’re just getting going!
(But don’t just take our word for it – check out this article from the Telegraph – an unexpected campaign ally! – which backs up some of our arguments. The Divestment campaign is really going mainstream!)
This Tuesday, July 1st, the County Council will be discussing a motion submitted by Green Party Councillor David Williams. This is very exciting since – as far as we know – it is the first time a local authority in the UK is discussing a motion to divest from fossil fuels.
And we want to make sure it gets as much support as it can!
Can you contact your councillor to let her or him know that you would like them to support the motion?
What to write?
One option is a very simple note, just asking them to support it. Something such as:
A motion to divest Oxfordshire County Council of fossil fuels has been proposed (number 18 on the agenda), and I would urge you to support it. It sends a clear message that Oxfordshire is ready to think about its citizens future and that we must support the move towards the clean energy revolution we so urgently need.
You can also go into the details of why it is important to divest. This is one way of putting it:
There are two compelling reasons for divestment.
The first is about the risk of stranded assets:
Proven fossil fuel reserves contain already five times the amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere without triggering potentially catastrophic (> 2 degrees C) global warming.
While those fossil fuel reserves are still below ground physically, they are already above ground economically, in the form of the market valuation of the major fossil fuel companies that control them. However, if those reserves cannot safely be used there is an inevitable ‘carbon bubble’ waiting to burst. (If they are used, an even more dangerous future awaits us, in which stock exchanges are unlikely to continue to function.) Either way, they are toxic assets, which the County Council should rapidly dispose of, before global investors belatedly recognise their inflated valuation.
The second is about moral responsibility:
The continued and unabated burning of fossil fuels risks the entire future of civilisation. If it is wrong to continue in this way, it is wrong too to seek to profit from doing so.
What else can I do?
1) Sign the petition if you haven’t done so yet, and get all your friends and neighbours to do the same!
2) Join us for half an hour outside the County Council at 9.30am on Tuesday 1st July. As the Councillors arrive, they will see us with banners and placards, reminding them to vote the right way! County hall is at OX1 1ND on New Road.
As mentioned in the last post, we have contacted candidates in the Oxford City Council elections to ask their views about the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign, and we now have the results.We asked the candidates three questions:
- Do you agree that Oxford City Council should freeze any new investments in fossil fuels companies and completely divest from such companies within five years?
- If elected, would you be willing to pursue the aims of the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign within the City Council?
- If you have any further comments about this campaign, please give them here.
We did the survey by email, and unfortunately we weren’t able to obtain email addresses for all the candidates. In addition to emailing those we could directly, we contacted the local Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP parties and asked them to either provide email addresses or forward the questions to the candidates themselves. None of them provided a list of emails, and we have no way of knowing whether they forwarded the questions. (The Green Party told us they would.) We didn’t ask the Labour Party to do this because all their candidates had publicly available email addresses so contacted them directly.
All the responses we received are reproduced in the table here, which also indicates who we did and didn’t email directly. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order of ward and then surname.
Fossil Free Oxfordshire is writing to all candidates in the forthcoming Oxford City Council elections on Thursday 22 May to ask about their views on our campaign. We will publish all their responses (or lack of them) here, so keep checking in!