Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now higher than at any time in human history. The alarming new milestone of 415ppm (parts per million) CO is stark evidence of our collective failure to rein in global greenhouse gas emissions.
And the consequences are becoming increasingly and terrifyingly visible: from Cyclone Idai wreaking havoc on communities in South-East Africa to the devastating news that sharp Arctic temperature rises could irreversibly tip the climate into run-away heating.
Public concern about this planetary crisis is hitting record highs around the world, and the UK Parliament has responded by declaring a Climate Emergency. Now the only credible way forward for politicians is to act boldly and decisively to initiate a rapid and just transition to a zero-carbon society.
The guiding principles are clear: withdraw all political and financial support for fossil fuels and rapidly scale up clean energy solutions.
We can start the journey by taking a long hard look at what we are doing now. We hand out huge subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuel companies. We funnel billions into dirty energy projects abroad. We promote new fossil fuel infrastructure, from airport expansion and coal mines in the UK to oil pipelines in the US. Investments are meant to build and secure our shared future - but all these fossil fuel investments are directly fuelling the climate crisis that threatens to undermine that future.
Instead of funding more climate chaos at taxpayers’ expense, we must urgently redirect our finances to enable the transition to a zero-carbon economy.
In the UK Parliament, we have to get our own house in order first. Our Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund (PCPF) currently invests millions of pounds in fossil fuel companies, including BP PLC (£11.68m - the fund’s single largest holding) and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (£10.95m).
These very corporations are among the 100 companies responsible for over 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. To protect their destructive business models, they have spent over $1billion since the Paris Agreement to actively prevent, delay and weaken climate regulation, while investing next to nothing in clean energy.
BP, ostensibly a fossil fuel giant with somewhat of a climate conscience, spent well over $15billion on oil and gas last year and under $500million on renewables. Investing in BP and other fossil fuel companies means promoting climate-wrecking fossil fuels.
It took more than two years of sustained pressure from a growing number of MPs for the PCPF to even publish its holdings, revealing the fund’s high level of exposure to risky carbon-intensive industries. It has taken another two years to finally see the first positive steps by our pension fund to review investment strategies and take account of climate risk. Shockingly, the PCPF’s shareholdings in fossil fuel companies have increased significantly during this time.
250 cross-party MPs have now signed the Divest Parliament pledge to call on the PCPF to fully divest from fossil fuels. The tide in Parliament is clearly turning against fossil fuels, but progress is too slow and too many MPs are still hesitant to take a clear stance. Even after declaring a Climate Emergency, a majority of over 400 sitting MPs don’t seem to take issue with their pensions being invested in fossil fuels.
Many are outspoken about the climate crisis, but conveniently ignore the fact that support for fossil fuels is not just incompatible with curbing emissions but dangerously counterproductive.
This is a simple real-world test of our commitment to meaningful climate action. If we cannot agree to stop funding climate breakdown through our own pension investments, then the declaration of a Climate Emergency was utterly meaningless.
A strong mandate from MPs for divestment, on the other hand, will be a springboard for initiating the wide-ranging policy shifts and economic transformation that are needed for a sustainable and equitable future.
The huge sums of money that we free up by divesting our economy from fossil fuels can be positively reinvested in climate solutions. Mass mobilisation of resources towards renewable energy and zero-carbon infrastructure in the form of an innovative and bold Green New Deal could allow us to decarbonise our economy within a decade, create plenty of meaningful green jobs and set us on a path to a more sustainable, fair and just society: a positive, hopeful and regenerative vision to overcome the Brexit divisions and unite us all behind a common purpose.
Surely it would do MPs proud to be actively investing in this future through our pension fund?
This week’s divestment debate in Westminster marks a critical opportunity for MPs to champion climate-responsible investment and to lead by example on the zero-carbon transition. We can no longer allow special corporate interests to shape our political and financial decisions, while our citizens and communities cry for real climate action. We need to openly confront the fact that our climate pledges and investment choices are misaligned. And we need every single MP and all elected representatives and public servants to unequivocally back a rapid shift away from fossil fuels and towards a zero-carbon future.
Actions speak louder than Climate Emergency declarations.
Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion