Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

Fossil fuel divestment

– In the ACT

December 2013, by Josh Creaser from 350.org Australia

Fossil fuel divestment is the new ‘kid on the block’ when it comes to climate campaigning here in Australia and around the world.

Divestment has gained popularity quickly.

In just over a year, hundreds of community led campaigns calling on public institutions like churches, universities and city governments to stop investing in coal, oil and gas companies have emerged in the US, UK, northern Europe and Australia.

These community campaigns run alongside a growing push for superannuation funds and banks to stop investing in the fossil fuel sector and instead support the uptake of renewables.

Divestment is a powerful tactic, but its purpose and place in the movement has often been misunderstood. By looking at the divestment campaigns running here in the ACT, I hope to explain what is important about relatively small institutions divesting.

The very roots of fossil fuel development campaigning in Australia can be found here in the capital.

Two years ago the ANU Environment Collective launched one of the very first divestment campaigns, calling on the university to stop investing in disreputable coal seam gas company Metgasco. They won on that front and are now engaged in a much longer struggle to see the university fully divest.

Last year, the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church made headlines went it committed to fully divest from coal, oil and gas companies.

Following in this fine tradition, 350.org Canberra launched the Fossil Free ACT campaign. We are calling on the government to divest its shares (conservatively estimated at $125 million) in coal, oil and gas companies.

The government boasts a proud record on climate action. Indeed its 40% emissions reduction and 90% renewable energy target for 2020 are the best in the country.

Fossil Free ACT points out that there is a stark contradiction at play: the government’s policies promote a sustainability transition; their investments support the industry causing climate change.

Given this contradiction and the Government’s proven ability to alter its investment practices, as demonstrated by the Socially Responsible Investment Policy, the Fossil Free team is asking them to first disclose and then responsibly divest from fossil fuel stocks over 5 years.

Now this is where there may be some confusion: people wonder what impact the ACT Government will have by withdrawing its relatively small $125 from fossil fuel stocks. ‘Won’t those shares just be bought up by other investors?’ The answer is yes. But the power of divestment, at this early stage at least, is not its financial impact but rather the moral message it carries and the signal it sends to the market.

The Government’s ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy targets will have negligible impact on global emissions, but they are still incredibly important as an example of the transition that is possible.

The same is true of divestment, it demonstrates that a reputable public body no longer acquiesces to the destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry. It helps to erode the social licence that the fossil fuel industry has so long been granted, but now must be removed due to the ever increasing climate, health, water and community impacts. It sends a signal that these companies are no longer responsible entities.

Divestment campaigning alone will not win the fight against the fossil fuel industry.

Their plans to extract more than five times the coal, oil and gas that will shoot the world past two degrees must be challenged on many fronts.

If public institutions, like the ACT Government, our national university, churches and many others across the planet begin to make public commitments to divest it will go a long way to uncovering the dirty plans of the fossil fuel industry here in Australia and abroad. It will begin to shift the public discourse and, in time, hopefully the political landscape as well.

Divestment isn’t a silver bullet for the climate movement, but already its taking a sizeable chunk out of the fossil fuel industry’s armour.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government