The Republic of Ireland will become the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuels following the comfortable passage of the Irish Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill in the Dail Eireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, on Thursday. The bill is also expected to pass comfortably through the upper house, the Seanad Eireann, meaning that it could become law by the end of the year. If successful, it would require the state’s €8 billion National Investment Fund to sell all investments in oil, coal, gas and peat, which are currently valued at €318 million. The bill marks an enormous positive step for the country, which was ranked the second worst country in Europe for climate action just last month. Crucially, the bill also sends a powerful message to countries around the world, emphasizing both the ability and need to phase out fossil fuels in order to prevent the catastrophic course of global climate change.
Thomas Pringle, the independent Member of Parliament who introduced the bill in 2016, acknowledged that the Republic of Ireland is “lagging seriously behind on our EU and international climate commitments”. However, Gerry Liston of the Global Legal Action Network emphasized the importance of the bill, arguing that “governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry”.
The Irish Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill indeed marks a big change for the Republic of Ireland, but it also signifies a seismic shift in attitudes around the world. Environmental activists and the ethically conscious have long recognised that polluting the planet through the burning of fossil fuels is immoral. However, countries and international bodies have often been slow to affect change, hampered by our dependency on and profitability of natural resources. As our finite resources become more depleted, investing in fossil fuels begins to be an economically risky prospect. However, the actions of the Irish government may have the potential to scare investors away from fossil fuels, and conversely cause shares in renewables to appreciate by the same hand. As economic interest has been a significant driver of fossil fuels in the past, this may mark the beginning of a sustainable economic future driven by renewable energy.
The movement towards fossil fuel divestment has gained significant traction, and in 2015 was reported to be the fastest growing divestment movement in history. Beginning on the campuses of American universities in 2010, students petitioned their institutions to divest from unsustainable polluting resources and instead move to support clean energies. The movement has since spread around the globe: in 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed aiming to reduce fossil fuel emissions, which supported the movement. By 2016, $5.5 trillion has been divested from fossil fuels worldwide, including commitments from cities like New York.
The divestment from fossil fuels by the Republic of Ireland marks a significant step in the fight against climate change. However, as America withdraws from the Paris Agreement and countries like China continue to pollute at an unsustainable rate, it is clear that the actions of one country alone are not enough. The hope is that the steps taken by Ireland will show countries around the world that divesting from fossil fuels is possible, and will inspire others to follow suit. Otherwise, if the world continues to profit from the unsustainable, dirty and polluting fossil fuel industry, it is difficult to foresee how it will ever achieve a sustainable future.
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