Fossil Free Münster did it! After two years of intensive campaigning, the time has come: The city of Münster divests its pension fund worth 22 million Euro and excludes the option of future investments in fossil fuels – the first city in Germany to do so.
Companies such as RWE, Shell, Acelor Mittal, BASF and Total will no longer feature in the portfolio of the city starting as of 1 April 2016. The reasoning of Münster was that investments in fossil fuels are not compatible with the climate targets of the city and, additionally, bear a financial risk.
This development means great progress for the divestment movement in Germany. The campaign has proven that divestment as a strategy does make sense and is possible in Germany. It also showed that it will be supported by the political and democratic structures.
Why Münster of all places?
The decision in Münster came after committed citizens had managed to put the issue on the local political agenda having spent a great deal of energy on convincing their fellow citizens.
Late in summer 2013, Fossil Free Münster initiated a petition calling on the city to divest. At that point in time, the group did know neither whether the city owned any shares or funds nor whether these included investments in fossil fuels. For the group this was reason enough to start a public debate, get the media involved and to start contacting people working in the city administration.
It was rather easy to find out about the investments of the city. The freedom of information law and a friendly treasurer made it possible. However, other potential allies in the city were less friendly. The commissioners for climate and environment did not show any interest in the issue. Quickly it became obvious that only public pressure would help to put the issue on the local agenda. No sooner said than done!
Fossil Free Münster organised information events, discussions, film screenings and later demonstrations, flashmobs and guerilla screenings. The group also found allies, including other citizen’s initiatives and the student government of the university.
At the same time, Fossil Free Münster personally contacted local policy makers. In May 2014, it was time for the city council elections. Thanks to the committed members of Fossil Free and the Green Party Münster, the call for divestment was incorporated in the electoral programme of the Green party and was met with long applause.
The first step was done. The election turned out positive for the Green Party. They managed to also include the call for divestment in the coalition treaty with the Social Democrats. The ingenious part about it: Not only should the city divest from fossil fuels, on top of that, other criteria for sustainability were also to be considered. In the future, the city vowed to neither finance nuclear energy, nor the armament industry nor child labour. What a success!
Putting the coalition treaty into practice took yet another year. The finance department of the city did some thorough research to come up with an ecologically and ethically sustainable portfolio, all the while also considering financial returns. This has now been completed. On Wednesday 4 November 2015, the proposal for implementation was adopted by the main and financial committee of the city.
A great success for Fossil Free Münster and proof of the fact that staying power, continuous public pressure and stamina pay off eventually.
The divestment decision of Münster will have larger effects still: In a second step, the dynamic will be extended to be applied on other communal institutions. These may have considerably higher shares invested in fossil fuels. This extension was initiated both by the city and the Fossil Free network Germany.
A particular focus lies on the regional Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe holding a large package of the RWE shares. And also the University of Münster will have to be prepared. Until now, the dean of the university was a stubborn opponent of divestment. The financial shares of the Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität are worth 18 million. The Fossil Free Münster crew intends to change his approach. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that they succeed again.