Global Divestment Day May Save The Day

13 Feb 2015

People around the world are rallying together to raise awareness of the world’s first Global Divestment Day.

Global Divestment Day is a product of the compelling fossil fuel divestment movement that urges corporations to revoke their investments in fossil fuels.

Around the world, presentations, exhibitions, rallies and workshops will take place to generate awareness about the dangers climate change pose to humanity whilst promoting the divestment message.

Since its popularisation in 2012, the fossil fuel divestment movement has quickly spread to thousands of prominent organisations across the world, including banks, superannuation companies, churches, and most notably, universities.

The movement is driven by the goal to squash the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from 400 parts per million (ppm) down to 350ppm. Current carbon dioxide levels suggest that continued use of fossil fuels poses society a great risk, and suggests immediate action should be taken. This notion is echoed by respected climate scientists around the world.

A good description of divestment was coined by Ken Silverstein from Forbes Magazine, who describes the idea of divestment as “not too dissimilar from parents withholding allowances for kids who don’t listen.”

The movement has been identified as the fastest growing divestment campaign the world has ever seen, easily surpassing the apartheid and tobacco divestment efforts.

A CSIRO report released in January revealed climate change projections for Australia, which suggest that our volatile weather patterns will become more frequent and extreme. Hot days will become more frequent and hot, rain patterns will fluctuate and decrease except in Tasmania where they will increase, and ocean levels will rise while becoming more acidic.

With this in mind, engaging the attention of Australian policy makers and the general public is more pressing than ever before.

Dr Tom Smith and Dr Martina Linnenluecke from UQ Business School of The University of Queensland published a paper in January in the Australian Journal of Management. Alongside colleagues from other universities, the professors examined the divestment movement, climate change science, and the strategic responses from policy and organisational stakeholders.

Both professors believe that Global Divestment Day is extremely important in generating grassroots awareness which will propel governments into making plans at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 in Paris this December. Yet, people power alone won’t be the driving force.  

“You need the big strategic action from the governments. We have been getting that from Europe, not so much from Australia, China and the USA, yet we really need them. Obama and the Australian government can’t do much unless there’s really good grassroots support,” Dr Smith said.  

“That’s what the divestment movement is doing. What it’s doing is showing the people making the strategic decisions that they have the support. That gives them a lot more confidence to do it. I think the divestment movement has made Obama bolder to go and do this recent climate related deal with China. There is a confluence between grassroots and strategic, and you need that.”

Dr Linnenluecke agrees that divestment alone will not affect the fossil fuel market.

“Divesting is probably [a symbolic gesture] if we look at the value of the shares that have been divested, in itself it isn’t really enough to make a company unprofitable in a way.

“There are still enough buyers in a market for shares and so on, one company divesting at a time is not really sending a strong enough signal,” she says.

“People do want to see action, shareholders want to see action. From that point of view, it sends the message that climate change is an issue, taken seriously by the population, it’s been taken seriously by lots of groups, especially from universities, as it shows that the movement is supported by younger people.

“Rather than achieving a market crash, it is more about sending these signals for companies and policy makers to pick up on the fact that climate change is happening, we need to do something about it.

Dr Smith is positive that an outcome will result from the COP 21 this December.

Dr Smith and Dr Linnenluecke hope the outcome of Global Divestment Day will be far reaching, eventually resulting in a strong solution to reach the 350 ppm goal.

“I think this weekend will be big. Global Divestment Day is happening all over the world and will be picked up by European networks, American networks. It’s going to reinforce the politicians to make the brave decisions,” Dr Smith said.

“It will probably be instrumental in sending messages and creative awareness. It’s one thing when the scientists are saying something, and when the politicians are saying it, but when you have people on the street organising events, showing concern, it is really a large power in itself,” Dr Linnenluecke stated.