The City of Moreland became the first council in Victoria to rule out direct investments in fossil fuels and the first council in Australia to start developing a strategy to move investments away from financial institutions that fund fossil fuel developments, after a vote at its October 8 meeting.
About 30 cities and counties internationally have made similar commitments, including Seattle, Dunedin and Oxford. The announcement also comes hot on the heels of similar divestment commitments made by Local Government Super, the Anglican Diocese of Perth, Sydney University and the Australian National University.
Residents from 350.org Melbourne and Climate Action Moreland were thrilled with the result, which comes after months of engagement with the council and the community, including a petition with more than 1000 signatures and a community forum held in August which attracted more than 100 people.
Petition organiser Michael Stanley from 350.org Melbourne and Climate Action Moreland said: "The leadership shown by Moreland will be an example to spread to other local councils in Australia, showing that fossil fuel divestment empowers local communities in the fight against climate change.”
The decision affects millions of dollars in council investments. A May report showed the council had cash and investments of $36 million. Moreland's principal bank is the Commonwealth Bank, which, like each of the “Big Four” is a big lender to fossil fuel projects around the country, including controversial coal projects on the east coast.
There are another couple of steps before Moreland’s divestment from fossil fuel is set in stone. The October resolution called for a report in February which would provide the information required to write a divestment strategy, with the divestment strategy to be voted on in the June 2015 council meeting.
Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton and Greens councillors Lenka Thompson and Sam Ratnam worked closely with Climate Action Moreland and 350.org to help develop the divestment resolution.
Bolton told Green Left Weekly that the grassroots campaign by Climate Action Moreland and 350.org was instrumental in the council taking up the divestment campaign.
“Climate change is already happening,” she said. “Reports that a tropical country like Malaysia had a drought and bushfires last year indicates that urgent action is required. The divestment campaign indicates that climate activists will not accept federal and state politicians’ attempt to block serious action on climate change.
“The building momentum for divestment from fossil fuel should also lead to a discussion about the need for a publicly owned energy industry that makes a direct shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The only reason why Australia hasn’t shifted away from a fossil fuel energy industry is because of vested interests. The vested interests need to be cut out of the process.”
The international divestment campaign, promoted locally by 350.org and Market Forces, contends that investing in fossil fuels is unethical, since fossil fuel use is the main driver of climate change, and financially risky, since the value of financial holdings in fossil fuels represents assets that will be largely stranded in the event of any serious international agreement to limit carbon emissions.