By Andrew Watson, regional organiser from Scotland
After a sustained campaign of excellent lobbying and effective constituency pressure, the Divest Parliament movement is celebrating a fantastic milestone at the 2019 SNP Spring Conference: 32 of the 35 SNP MPs have now signed the pledge calling on the Westminster Parliamentary Contributory Pensions Fund (PCPF) to divest from fossil fuels.
This announcement follows an incredible 18 months of work by the Scotland regional organising team. This has involved outreach to community groups all over the country, delivering multiple workshops on how to build effective relationships with MPs and plenty of media coverage as the MP pledges kept rolling in!
With last year’s IPCC report, the science is clear: fossil fuels cannot be part of our future. If we’re to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees and prevent the devastating impacts of runaway climate change, we have to urgently accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.
It’s this stark fact that has driven the fast-accelerating global divestment movement, now comprising over 1000 hugely significant commitments, from major capital cities, mainstream banks and insurance companies, pension funds, faith groups, and cultural, health and educational organisations – including Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. The result is over $8 trillion in committed assets being phased out of fossil fuels.
And following campaigning by Culture Unstained, it has also resulted in the recent commitment by the Edinburgh International Science Festival to sever sponsorship ties with fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Total.
Scotland has massive potential to be a world leader in renewables, and is currently aiming to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This ambitious target provides a huge chance to drive our economy and support a just transition away from North Sea Oil. But the first step has to be recognising that fossil fuels have no future.
Holly Gillibrand, a teenager from Fort William, met recently with Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and others at Westminster to make exactly that point. She’s just one of thousands of Scottish schoolchildren who have dramatically raised awareness in recent weeks by striking from school, gathering from all over the country to protest outside Holyrood and in George Square, Glasgow.
Unfortunately, though, despite the recognised environmental, ethical and financial arguments, the pension fund of our own Westminster MPs continues to invest in fossil fuels. Five of their top 20 investments are in that sector, with companies including BP, Total and Royal Dutch Shell.
A campaign established in 2014 by the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has been calling on the trustees of the MP’s Pension Fund to phase out fossil fuel investment over an appropriate timescale. More than 230 serving and former MPs from all parties, now including 32 SNP MPs, have now added their names to the Divest Parliament pledge, calling on their pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.
As Mhairi Black, SNP Youth Affairs spokesperson said: “It has been inspiring to see so many young people taking action to show their concerns about climate change. Scotland has set itself ambitious climate protection goals, and is already rapidly scaling up renewable energy technologies. I am very pleased to join with my fellow SNP MPs in urging the UK Parliament to show climate leadership and remove their pension investments from fossil fuel companies.”
With growing momentum, the Divest Parliament campaign is making an impact. Just recently, the trustees of the MP’s Pension Fund committed to developing a new Climate Change Investment Policy and want to show ambition in this area. This is a significant change in policy, due to be put into writing in October.
We can be proud of the strong support in Scotland for the Divest Parliament campaign. 32 of our 35 SNP MPs have signed the pledge, alongside many Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, but it remains as important as ever to keep up the pressure on those who’ve not yet done so. The SNP Spring Conference will be an excellent opportunity to encourage those last remaining few to join the call.
And as pressure mounts in Westminster, it’s surely only a matter of time before our own MSPs in Holyrood and our local councillors across the country follow suit, committing their pension funds to divesting. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure they take that vital step towards a cleaner, safer world.