Divestment is a valid strategy to achieve change

Back in October the Australian Science Media Centre asked me for a comment on the decision by Lego to end its partnership with Shell on the grounds that it wanted to disassociate from the environmental impacts of fossil fuels.   Visit the AusSMC here to see the range of comments offered on what is not a straight forward issue. My concern is the attempt by the proponents of the status quo – namely the fossil fuel interest – to question the legitimacy, even morality, of decisions by organisations like the Australian National University to divest of shareholdings in fossil fuel companies. I told AusSMC:

‘The campaign to encourage financial divestment in the fossil fuels industry is both a  legitimate and unsurprising strategy for change.

Community stakeholders frustrated at the relative inaction of government and business in mitigating climate change and other unsustainable forms of economic development see a far greater degree of responsiveness when the prospect of de-capitalisation of projects and products is invoked by the mobilisation of the massive capacity of pension funds and other institutional investors seeking to achieve better ‘triple bottom line’ outcomes.

For the past twenty years the major oil, gas and coal companies have defended their social licence to operate in a mix of messages ranging from jobs in developing countries and in parts of regional Australia to providing affordable energy to the world’s poor.  At other times, their message has amounted to outlandish “green-wash” of the extent of their environment impact  which conspicuously omits climate change as an environmental threat.

Corporate sustainability initiatives like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) generally have reflected significant incremental levels of innovation in the eco-efficiency of industry, but at the end of the day none of these measures can hide the reality of carbon emissions in the atmosphere or the escalating depletion of non-renewable resources.

To that end, the rise of the divestment movement among a growing number of global pension and investment funds reflects a fuller more transparent accounting of the risks involved in unsustainable business and economic strategies than has hitherto been the case.  In time, it  should prompt or accelerate new thinking by affected industries and their dependent economies about the benefits of diversification and investment in sustainable alternatives.”

Author: Professor John Cole OAM

Professor Emeritus and founder of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and Honorary Professor, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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