13 December 2021
Green City Councillor for Abbey Ward, Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley, spoke at a rally on 11 December. Protestors urged the Cambridge County Council Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels. Below is the text of Hannah's speech in full.
"My name is Hannah Copley and I’m a Green Party City Councillor as well as a climate activist and medical doctor.
We are currently hurtling towards planetary disaster. We, as one of the greatest historical emitters of greenhouse gases have a huge responsibility to lead the way decarbonising our society and making the necessary social and political change before it’s too late. That means removing the legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry in every way that we can.
The fossil fuel industry has known about the existential threat that their business plan represents for over 30 years, and at every single stage they have chosen to prioritise short term profit over the lives of people living in the Global South today and the planet we leave for future generations.
On Monday I, and several others here will be asking the Pension Fund Committee to fully divest their £87 million pounds they currently have as an immoral investment in fossil fuel companies. To continue to profit from these exploitative business practices is turning the council chamber into a climate crime scene.
I have told them my three reasons why they should divest.
Firstly, I put to them that divestment is a moral imperative. What we do in the next 3-4 years will define the future of humanity. We need to urgently remove the social acceptability of fossil fuel firms, and we need to say that making profit from literally burning the planet is not something that we, as local councils can allow.
Secondly, I put to them that divestment promotes necessary societal and political change. Right now, fossil fuel companies are orchestrating a mass greenwash exercise, persuading the public they are decarbonising but in truth attempting to burn as much oil and gas as possible whatever the cost. The International Energy Agency says we can’t have any new oil, gas or coal development, yet fossil fuel companies are spending tiny fractions of their investing in renewables as compared to new oil and gas investments. Shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies has not, and will not, lead to change on the scale and in the timeframe necessary. I’m going to talk a bit more about why the idea of shareholder engagement doesn’t apply to the existential threat of climate change.
What does shareholder engagement actually mean? The idea behind it is that those who hold shares in a company should use their position as a part-owner in order to influence that company to do better on whatever issue it is you care about. For us that is stopping every fraction of a degree of global heating, as we know that every fraction corresponds to mass loss of life. For us, that means every single oil and gas company completely changes their business plan. There is very limited evidence to suggest that engagement with fossil fuel companies can help meet this aim.
This is what we need fossil fuel companies to do:
One: Commit to keeping the vast majority of their oil, gas and coal stocks in the ground. Right now these companies are suing governments in private courts about the loss of their profits. I don’t think they are going to do this easily.
Two: Stop exploring for more reserves. Right now they are exploring
Three: Rapidly transition to become almost entirely renewable energy companies.
In the entire history of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies, we have not achieved this. The solution is clear: we need to do everything we can to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
As a local government, we do not have a chance of convincing multinational companies to end their entire exploitative business practices and completely reinventing themselves. There have been cases of some movement in the right direction as a result of shareholder engagement, for example to Tesco and Sainsbury’s to reduce the impact of their deforestation and to reduce plastic packaging. However, the demand to these businesses was not for a complete turnaround on their core business plan.
By divesting, we are sending out a wider message to the public - that the business practices of fossil fuel companies are so abhorrent, that we will have nothing to do with them. We need massive social and political change and to raise the alarm while we still have a chance.
Finally, I put to them that investments in fossil fuel companies make poor financial sense.
Overall, continuing to hold these investments in the fossil fuel industry is failing those alive now and future generations by not doing everything within the power of the committee to encourage the necessary social and political change both from fossil fuel companies and from wider society. We know that it is currently "code red for humanity" with the UN Secretary General saying the recent IPCC report "must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet,"
Nationally, at least 6 local councils, 86 universities and the UK’s biggest pension fund (NEST) have all committed to divest. How can we call ourselves a world leader as a city, if we do not do the same?"