Polish students part of an international climate strike hold up signs at COP24, the United Nations conference for climate change negotiations in Katowice, Poland. Image: Monika Skolimowska/Getty Images (via Vox)

Better Streets members might have a variety reasons for wanting more walking, more cycling and less motor traffic on our streets – but for some of us, it’s concern about the effects of that traffic on the climate (in fact, road transport is now the UK sector that produces the most greenhouse gas). So we thought you might be interested in this guest blog post about divesting from fossil fuels to halt climate change, by Enfield resident Adam McGibbon.*

Katowice is a post-industrial city in Upper Silesia, Poland – the heart of coal country. Last month it played host to the UN annual climate change conference.

Much has been written about the talks, which failed to reach a meaningful outcome. I was there, having been given an ‘Observer’ pass by the UN. My low expectations for the conference were not even met.

I was shocked at the huge influence of fossil fuel companies in the talks – the very companies that have pushed us to the brink of climate breakdown. Just 100 fossil fuel companies have emitted 71% of all manmade greenhouse gases since 1988. Scandalously, we now know that fossil fuel companies knew about climate change as long as 50 years ago, and yet they hid the danger from the world and spent millions casting doubt on climate science and funding disinformation, all so they can continue to make money.

It’s scandalous that these people have a role in the UN process. US financier Michael Bloomberg has rightly said that promoting fossil fuel at a climate summit is like ‘promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.’ I was expecting fossil fuel companies to have influence in the talks, but the extent of their power shocked me. Coal, oil and gas companies participated in at least 31 side events during the conference. That includes events by Shell, Chevron, and the sponsorship of the whole conference by a huge Polish coal company. Official country delegations included former employees and lobbyists for fossil fuel companies. And this is just the influence we know about.

We need to break the power of the fossil fuel industry – and this begins at home.

Make no mistake – the reason why we’ve had more than 25 years of talks on climate change but little progress is because of the influence that the global fossil fuel industry wields in the UN process. They are aided and abetted by a small number of powerful rogue countries, in thrall to their domestic fossil fuel industries. Because UN negotiations require consensus, a small number of powerful countries can hold up all progress.

So what has this got to do with Enfield?

Simply put – to stop climate breakdown, to prevent millions of deaths from drought, flooding, food insecurity and forced migration, to build a clean energy future, we need to break the power of the fossil fuel industry. And this begins at home.

Freedom of Information requests reveal that Enfield Council’s pension fund, which council workers and teaching assistants in our borough pay into, has over £60 million invested in fossil fuel companies. (The Council disputes this, estimating their fossil fuel investments to be closer to £18 million). Across the UK, local councils invest £16 billion in the fossil fuel industry through their pension funds. This means that Enfield Council is directly funding the climate crisis.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has pledged to divest the City Hall pension fund and has urged boroughs to join him.

But all over the world, a mass movement is taking root, forcing respected institutions – universities, cities, government to divest their holdings from fossil fuels. So far, over $8 trillion US dollars have been divested from fossil fuels from over a thousand institutions, with more on the way every day. Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Waltham Forest councils have already pledged to divest from fossil fuels. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has pledged to divest the City Hall pension fund and has urged boroughs to join him. Our three Enfield MPs, Joan Ryan, Bambos Charlambous and Kate Osamor have pledged to campaign for the Parliamentary Pension Fund to divest. Enfield Council should follow suit.

Divest Enfield is a growing group of local residents campaigning towards this. The best way to stop fossil fuel companies from holding back clean energy progress is to rob them of their power.

We know divestment campaigns work – in the 1970s and 80s, global divestment campaign helped to bring down the Apartheid regime in South Africa. And now, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was involved that campaign, has called for “an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for “an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet.”

In Enfield, our campaign is growing. There is a growing financial imperative to divest, as well as a moral imperative. UNISON, one of the trade unions that represents Enfield Council’s staff on the Local Pension Board, has policy on campaigning to divest from fossil fuels. We know that people of all parties, people of faith and people of conscience support our campaign.

Either we destroy the global power of the fossil fuel industry by acting in every community, or we end up with a devastated future. This is one of the starkest choices ever facing humanity.

Divestment is one of the single most powerful acts that you can campaign for to create a better future.

Join us to make 2019 the year that Enfield Council starts being a leader, and stops funding climate change.

Adam McGibbon

*The views in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Better Streets.

JOIN: divestenfield@yahoo.com

TWITTER: @DivestEnfield FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/divestenfield