By Katrine Ehnhuus, Danish divestment campaigner
Today, Aalborg, the fourth biggest municipality in Denmark, has decided to divest from fossil fuels. This divestment commitment marks an important milestone for our Fossil Free campaign in Denmark: Twenty of the 98 Danish municipalities (20%) have divested from coal, oil and gas.
In addition, 30 municipalities only invest in Danish government bonds and real estate bonds and therefore hold no investments in the fossil fuel industry. In other words, now half of all Danish municipalities don’t invest in fossil fuels.
We can make a difference
I meet a lot of people who worry about the climate crisis and want to do something about it, but feel powerless. Our consumer society has led many to believe that the only impact we can make is through our consumption. Social movements, such as the divestment movement, prove that this is not true. If we get together as citizens and put immense pressure on those in power and those responsible for the climate crisis, we can make a difference.
The fossil fuel industry is continuing to drive the climate crisis, and we need to stop them. One way to do this is to ensure that our institutions, including our local governments, cut their financial ties with coal, oil and gas companies. This is why we started a campaign to make Danish municipalities go fossil free.
How we made it this far
I decided that I wanted to participate more actively in the fight against climate change and joined a volunteer meeting on divestment in October 2015. At the meeting, we decided to start a campaign to engage municipalities in divestment.
It was not an easy start. In Denmark, municipalities are allowed to invest in Danish government bonds and real estate bonds. They are not, however, allowed to invest directly in companies. Yet, through investments funds managed by banks, their money can still support bonds, stocks and shares of companies. To our great dismay, the banks refused to offer fossil free investment options to the municipalities.
So our efforts seemed futile at first. Nevertheless, we didn’t want to give up that easily. We contacted all 98 municipalities by e-mail and met with those interested. We asked about their investment policies and whether or not they invested in fossil fuel companies. A task we have repeated every year since.
To answer our questions, several of the municipalities contacted their investment fund manager and expressed a demand for fossil-free investment options. After a year of constant pressure from the Danish divestment campaign and municipalities, including Copenhagen, the banks in Denmark finally gave in.
Today, nine investment fund managers, including the most influential banks in Denmark, offer fossil free investment funds. They have been developed to satisfy the increasing demand from municipalities but other investors also have access to these funds.
That allowed us to mobilise and make sure that the University of Copenhagen chose a fossil-free investment option when it decided in 2016 to start investing in stocks.
The fossil-free investment funds abide by ambitious criteria that were developed by the Copenhagen municipality. Companies involved in coal, oil and gas exploration, extraction and refining are excluded, as well as companies delivering equipment and services to, for example, the offshore oil industry, if 5% or more of their turnover comes from fossil fuels.
Our divestment campaign continues to gain momentum, and we will not stop at 50%. We will keep campaigning until all Danish municipalities have become fossil free.
Part of a global movement
Denmark is not the only place where common citizens come together on a voluntary basis in an effort to stop the climate crisis. It is a global movement.
Success stories from other parts of the world have inspired my fellow campaigners and myself. They have given us hope, and boosted our fighting spirit. These stories have told us that we are not alone and that together we can make a difference.
I hope that our story can inspire other campaigners out there too.