Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil-fuel firms, after a bill was passed through the lower house of the Oireachtas or Irish parliament, with cross-party parliamentary backing.
The new legislation is intended to help ensure Ireland meets its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the first deal to unite the international community in tackling climate change.
The Irish Republic’s €8-billion national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which was interpreted to mean five years.
The use of heavily polluting peat as a domestic fuel is still common throughout much of the Republic of Ireland.
The move by sovereign wealth funds to ditch fossil-fuel investments has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars from large pension funds and insurers, cities including New York, churches and universities have moved elsewhere.
Environmentalists say existing fossil-fuel reserves are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that further exploration is ecological madness. Others argue that remaining as shareholders and persuading oil and gas firms to change would be more effective.
Ireland’s fossil-fuel divestment bill was passed by the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann, yesterday (Thursday) and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, Seanad, meaning it could become legislation before 2019. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300 million in fossil-fuel investments in 150 companies.
“The movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent parliamentarian who introduced the bill. “Ireland, by divesting, is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short-term vested interests.”
Éamonn Meehan of the development charity Trócaire said: “Today the Oireachtas has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”
Meehan said: “Just last month Ireland was ranked the second-worst European country for climate action, so the passing of this bill is good news. But it has to mark a significant change of pace on the issue.”
The legislation defines a fossil-fuel firm as a company that derives at least 20 per cent of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of conventional fuels. But it allows investment in Irish firms if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.
Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, which helped draft the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil-fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”
Ireland has great potential for renewable energy. Picture credit: Good Free Photos