From Norway to Scotland to Hawaii: Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Racks up Major Wins

Leaders cite destructive nature of coal and oil industries in decision to divest from fossil fuels

By Nadia Prupis · 30 May 2015

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Picture: Waging Non-Violence
Picture: Waging Non-Violence

Rack up some more wins for divestment: the University of Hawaii System, the University of Edinburgh, and the Norwegian wealth fund have all within the last week answered the growing global call for institutions to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Norway's parliamentary parties announced on Thursday that the government would divest its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund from coal, citing the industry's impact on climate change. According to the Associated Press, environmentalists estimate that about $11 billion of that fund—the largest endowment in the world and often referred to as the oil fund—is currently invested in coal.

Greenpeace Norway activist Truls Gulowsen told the AP, "We expect that billions of euros will be withdrawn from the coal industry, when this happens... This is a huge win for the divestment movement and a real sign of hope that investment patterns can be changed."

The rule is expected to be formally approved on June 5 with the full support of both the government and opposition parties.

Norway's decision comes just days after the University of Edinburgh announced its plan to divest from three of the world's largest fossil fuel producers within six months.

Organizers with the Edinburgh People & Planet student group campaigned for three years to convince the university to divest its $455 million endowment fund from fossil fuels. Following a 10-day student occupation of its finance department, University of Edinburgh officials said on Tuesday that the school would pull funds from coal and tar sands, although they would grant the targeted companies four weeks to respond.

"Companies involved in coal and tar sands extraction are irrevocably damaging our climate and attempts to engage with them to mitigate their climate impacts have failed," Miriam Wilson, Fossil Free campaign coordinator at People & Planet, said at the time. "Eighty-percent of coal reserves and all of the Canadian tar sands need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. We urge the University of Edinburgh to go beyond today's announcement and commit to full divestment within 5 years—nothing short of this is enough."

If nothing short of full divestment is the goal, the University of Hawaii heard that message loud and clear. The school last week announced its plan to end all of its fossil fuel holdings by 2018, which make up 5 to 7 percent of the school's $66 million endowment.

UH officials said they chose to divest for both economic and environmental reasons, but also cited "a moral and leadership rationale" in their final report (pdf) detailing the decision.

"If we need to reduce our footprint to prevent humanity from significant damage, we shouldn't invest in companies that continue to benefit from [carbon dioxide]," UH chair Randolph Moore told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "We shouldn't bet against ourselves."

The move makes UH the largest higher education institution in the U.S. to divest from fossil fuels. In a press release, Dr. Joe Mobley, a marine biology professor and a faculty representative representative on the task group for divestment and sustainability, said the decision was "the perfect model of climate activism."

"Regents, faculty and students alike came together, shared their concerns over the scope and speed of climate change, particularly as it affects the Hawaiian Islands, then did something about it," Mobley said.

Prupis is a staff writer at Common Dreams.

This article first published by Common Dreams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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