Divest Protest: Join the Tug of War
Tuesday 6 December, County Hall, Lewes, BN7 1UE Lewes (meet at Lewes Train Station at 9am)
Wish our county council would take real action on climate change? Then join the protest to demand that ESCC shows it’s on the right side of stopping fossil fuel proliferation, says Gabriel Carlyle of Divest East Sussex
On 6 December, Divest East Sussex and friends will be back in Lewes, staging a tug of war between fossil fuels and climate action outside County Hall to coincide with East Sussex County Council (ESCC)’s next big meeting.
Assembling at 9am outside Lewes train station, we’ll be demanding that ESCC stops investing in fossil fuels, opposes the UK government’s new dash for gas in the North Sea, and that it supports a proper permanent special tax on Big Oil’s massive profits.
In other words, we’ll be asking ESCC to choose which side it’s on: fossil fuels or climate action? Because you can’t be on both.
Holding them to account
Indeed, as the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, noted this September:
‘Planet earth is a victim of scorched earth policies. The past year has brought us Europe’s worst heatwave since the Middle Ages. Megadrought in China, the United States and beyond. Famine stalking the Horn of Africa… And we ain’t seen nothing yet.’
And while ‘the poorest and most vulnerable – those who contributed least to this crisis – are bearing its most brutal impacts … the fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns.’
Moreover, according to Guterres: ‘fossil fuel producers and financiers [still] have humanity by the throat’, having spent decades using their wealth to promote ‘a false narrative to minimise their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.’
‘We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account’, he says. And that ‘includes the banks, private equity, asset managers and other financial institutions that continue to invest and underwrite carbon pollution.’
Today, ESCC – which still has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pensions invested in these companies – remains one of these ‘enablers’.
The ‘highway to climate hell’
And ESCC has also refused to challenge the UK government over its disastrous decision to side with the oil and gas companies, and its failure to bring in a proper, permanent special tax on these companies, like the one they have in Norway.
(Challenged about this at the Council’s October meeting, Keith Glazier claimed, inspirationally, that he ‘can’t affect the wider world’.)
The new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, recently increased the headline rate of the ‘windfall tax’ that was brought in by then-chancellor Rishi Sunak in late May.
However, as climate change lawyer Tessa Khan immediately noted:
‘Hunt has failed to close the gaping tax loophole that allows companies such as Shell to avoid tax if they invest in new oil and gas fields. It also gives them an even bigger handout if they choose to power their oil and gas rigs using wind – despite the fact that the vast majority of emissions come from burning, not extracting, oil. Not only will this see billions in lost tax, it sends us in precisely the opposite direction to the one that will get us out of this hole for good. This is the “highway to climate hell”, that the UN secretary general, António Guterres, warned world leaders about at COP27. It is also the route to permanently high energy bills.’
It’s now over nine years since the campaign to get the East Sussex Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels was launched in 2013. Administered by ESCC, the Fund covers Brighton & Hove as well as East Sussex.
In 2015, it was estimated that about 6.6% of the Fund was invested in the giant fossil fuel companies at the heart of the climate crisis. That’s roughly £172m of local people’s pension investments. Yet, as a result of relentless pressure from the campaigners across the County and beyond, the Fund’s exposure to fossil fuels is now believed to stand somewhere around 1%.
And a slew of figures and institutions from across the political spectrum have called on ESCC to divest, including Bexhill Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District Council, Lewes Town Council, Peacehaven Town Council, UNISON, Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes) and Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion).
By building further pressure on ESCC in the coming months we can get it to follow the likes of Harvard University and the New York City Pension Funds, and make a public commitment to fully divest from fossil fuels.
So join us in Lewes on 6 December and help make it happen!
More info: https://divesteastsussex.wordpress.com