Column: Leading the way on fossil fuels

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This month, Sheffield councillors passed an amended version of a Green Party motion calling for the council to help tackle climate change by not investing in fossil fuels – oil, gas, coal or fracking.

Sheffield is in good company, as it joins dozens of other cities worldwide in making this commitment.

These cities include Oslo, Berlin, Melbourne and Seattle.

But Sheffield City Council has gone even further by also declaring an ambition for Sheffield to “go fossil-free as a city” .

What does this mean? The original Green Party motion made this clear: a fossil-free city is one where “all of the major local government ... education and faith institutions have committed to divesting their investments and pension funds from fossil fuels, to the extent that they hold the power locally to do so.”

This may sound ambitious, but we’re already part of the way there.

In the last year, both the city’s universities promised not to invest in fossil fuels.

In March, South Yorkshire Pensions Authority set an aim to decrease the carbon intensity of its £5.5 billion fund over time – but stopped short of full divestment.

In 2013, the Quakers became the first faith group in the UK to ditch fossil fuels, and others have since joined them.

Divesting from fossil fuels makes a powerful political point – that our money and pensions should not be financing climate change and environmental destruction caused by the widespread use of fossil fuels.

But divesting is also a good financial move: the International Energy Agency says that more than two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground if we are to keep warming under 2 degrees (the target set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement).

Big fossil-fuel companies may not be good investments in the long term if the oil and gas reserves they’re counting on have to be left unburned.

When organisations divest, money that is currently invested in fossil-fuel companies can instead be put into more positive alternatives – like renewable energy, social housing and the local economy.

This victory at Sheffield Council is a positive step towards making our city fossil free.

The challenge is now on for other institutions and employers in the city, including the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, to do their part.