Investing in coal is a risky business. It is time for countries around the world – including Norway and Australia – to protect our future by pulling our investment funds out of coal.
Chief of the World Coal Association, Mr Milton Catelin, visited the Norwegian Parliament last month with one goal in mind: to stymy a strong push for the Norwegian pension fund to stop investing in the coal industry. Meanwhile, in Australia – Catelin’s homeland – Norway’s investment in Whitehaven Coal is contributing to the development of a proposed coal mine in the Leard State Forest, a significant ecological hotspot that has the last reserves of Whitebox Gum woodland in Australia, and is home to 34 critically endangered species and threatened species like the koala.
Norway and Australia are on the opposite sides of the globe, but have several important features in common. We are among the countries with the highest per capita income, with economies too reliant on the extraction of fossil fuels. Both countries make use of large public investment funds, dedicated to financing pensions and superannuation.
As the manager of large public savings, the State Pension Fund of Norway and The Future Fund of Australia have shared challenges. Dedicated to meeting the financial needs of future generations, these funds operate with a long term view of investment. They need to look at long-term trends and challenges.
One example is the investment in tobacco, from which both funds have divested; the Norwegian pension fund in 2009, and the Australian Future Fund in 2013. In both countries, these positive changes were made through committed campaigning that focused on the hypocrisy of governments working on the one hand to restrict smoking, whilst at the same time investing public money in the tobacco industries,
The same logic applies to coal divestment. While the world attempts to reduce its carbon emissions and move to renewable energy, it is hypocritical for governments to recognise the pressing need to reduce emissions, while investing in an industry that is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
Both Norway and Australia, and many other countries around the world, need to act on this now. In both countries, coal divestment is part of the conversation. In Norway, discussion has gained momentum since their general election, with a majority in Parliament set to support the move in a vote this week. In Australia, the Greens are campaigning hard for the Future Fund to get out of coal.
It's time to end the double standards when it comes to investment in coal. We cannot, on the one hand, know that climate change is the greatest challenge we face, and on the other, invest our long term savings in an industry that must be phased out as action to address global warming intensifies.
This is Norway’s opportunity to show global leadership. Its action will provide a strong signal ahead of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s summit in September, as the whole world is asked to lift its ambition in tackling global warming.
Australia and Norway are not alone. Around the world, other countries, businesses, churches, cities and individuals are reducing their investment exposure to coal. It is time for Australia and Norway to join them, and divest in the risk to the climate that is investment in coal.
MP Rasmus Hansson is a member of the Norwegian Green Party and Senator Christine Milne is leader of the Australian Greens.