Students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) have been running a campaign which is crucial for our climate and has great potential to create a positive environment effect, but unfortunately hasn’t gained much recognition and attention.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy resources such as coal and oil. They are non-renewable sources because their supply is limited and they will eventually run out. Fossil fuels release harmful carbon dioxide when extracted from the earth and burned. Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change, especially through the burning of fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels adds to the greenhouse effect and increases global warming. The usage of fossil fuels therefore has detrimental effects for our environment and all existing life on our planet.
The process of divestment simply means breaking all ties with any immoral company and/or industry and then publicly committing to end any investments, partnerships and sponsorships with the company/companies. The immorality of fossil fuel companies is the high rates of carbon emissions being released when these fossil fuels are extracted and burned in the process to create energy.
Muven Naidoo, a UCT student who runs the campaign for UCT to divest from fossil fuels has said that the fossil fuel divestment plan set out by UCT students follows a call for an immediate stop to any new investment in fossil fuel companies; UCT to release quarterly updates and report back on investments in sustainable energy companies, and urge all companies which the university has invested in, to map and publicise their own path towards becoming carbon neutral, meaning that companies achieve a state in which the net amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is reduced to zero.
The warming effects of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas have been known for a long time and scientist have confirmed that human activity has been causing climate change. The emissions of greenhouse gases urgently needs to be reduced as it has tremendous effects on sea level rises and increased natural disasters. Coastal areas are in most danger of these disasters but such natural disasters are not limited to coastal areas.
About 80% of South Africa’s energy source are from fossil fuel concentrated companies such as Eskom and Sasol who are the main energy source providers for the country, and I can imagine that a global estimate of fossil fuel energy contribution would not be far off from 80%. The portion of renewable energy as a percentage of final energy consumption in South Africa 2012 was 16.9%, most of that was from the burning of traditional biofuels for heating.
Around 65% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels. These terrifying statistics are the drive behind fossil fuel divestment campaigns around the world, most prominent since 2014 and popular among universities. It is an attempt to reduce climate change by tackling its ultimate causes.
While complete divestment is the end goal of UCT students’ campaign, partial divestment is a step towards that goal. The guideline for most divestment plans is to reach complete divestment after 5 years. The plan is currently being worked on to become more practical for where uncertainties may lie. Muven says there are also plans for a University panel for responsible investment to positively influence UCT investments. The estimate of 500 campaigners alongside Muven are confident that this campaign has realistic demands and will continue to be around until the divestment goal for UCT is reached.
The plan which has been drawn up since 2013 has been brought forth to the University’s Vice-chancellor Max Price as well as the Finance officer Ashley Francis. None of the demands within the plan has been agreed upon yet, but they have agreed to look into it. The University of Cape Town is a prestigious university and has high rankings usually placing it as the number 1 University in Africa! The university is a very progressive one has become known for its activism. The campaign for UCT to divest from fossil fuels therefore comes as no surprise to students, yet I believe that support for the campaign could be tripled in numbers had more students actually known about the campaign.
Fossil fuel companies which UCT invests in, such as Sasol and Eskom are financial sponsors with the university receiving R60 million towards Engineering and Built Environment studies. Divestment therefore might raise anxieties around financing from these fossil fuel companies.
Divesting would of course mean re-investing in cleaner, low carbon concentrated companies, shifting money away from oil, coal and gas and putting it into sustainable and eco-friendly companies. There are many such alternatives available in South Africa as well as abroad for any off-shore investments.
It is important to note that over 700 institutions worldwide have divested and are in the process of divesting, this should encourage the University of Cape Town to realise that the divestment from fossil fuels really is a practical campaign and that it is very possible for a university to be run fossil free.
I have compiled an audio where I interviewed 7 UCT students on campus and asked them about their thoughts on the campaign and whether they would support it.
Music: Adventures by A Himitsu from Sound Cloud http://goo.gl/YmnOAx