Last week Ireland moved one step closer to becoming the first nation to ban investment of public money in the fossil fuel industry. The Irish parliament, the Dáil, voted 90–53 on January 26 to divest the country’s sovereign wealth fund within five years and ban all future investments in coal, oil, and gas. This first-of-its-kind national legislation “marks an important moment in the history of the divestment movement,” according to Fossil Free Europe.
The total-divestment bill, supported by every political party but one, now goes to the parliamentary financial committee, and it is all but assured of final approval. The fund, called the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), controls €8.1 billion ($8.7 billion) in government money. The bill is prompted by “the urgency to phase out fossil fuel exploration, extraction and combustion in a timely manner to enable delivery of the commitment adopted in the Paris Agreement.”
Member of Parliament Thomas Pringle introduced the bill, calling for other countries to honor their Paris commitments as well. He threw down the gauntlet to Donald Trump and other climate deniers:
This principle of ethical financing is a symbol to these global corporations that their continual manipulation of climate science, denial of the existence of climate change and their controversial lobbying practices of politicians around the world is no longer tolerated. We cannot accept their actions while millions of poor people in underdeveloped nations bear the brunt of climate change forces as they experience famine, mass emigration and civil unrest as a result…. National governments have an essential role to play in backing up their Paris pledges by ensuring public funds are well placed to support the clean energy transition, and protected from the inevitable decline of the fossil fuel industry [emphasis added].
Trócaire, a Catholic social justice organization in Ireland, strongly supported the legislation, citing Pope Francis. His 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ called for defense of the environment as “our common home.” Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan added:
With a climate-sceptic recently inaugurated into the White House, this move by elected representatives in Ireland will send out a powerful message. The Irish political system is now finally acknowledging what the overwhelming majority of people already know: That to have a fighting chance to combat catastrophic climate change we must phase out fossil fuels and stop the growth of the industry that is driving this crisis.
In 2015, Norway’s sovereign pension fund divested from some fossil fuel companies, but not all. In a Trump-Tillerson-Exxon administration, the US is unlikely to emulate Norway or Ireland anytime soon. But here in California we can continue to move public funds toward total fossil fuel divestment, paving the way for the rest of our nation to follow.