Ethical Consumption in the News: April 18-24

This week featured five notable ethical consumption news stories: 175 states signed the Paris Agreement; Alberta released details on its carbon levy; a London mayoral candidate endorsed fossil fuel divestment; campuses are protesting in favor of fossil fuel divestment; and Dalhousie’s students’ union backed BDS. 

1. World Leaders Sign Paris Agreement at UN on Earth Day

On Friday government representatives of 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement, setting a new record for the most signatories to an international agreement. The Agreement will enter into force when countries representing at least 55% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 55% of the population ratify the agreement (passing a domestic law implementing the treaty). Canada plans to ratify the Paris Agreement this year, as does France, Mexico, and Australia.

2. Alberta to Set Carbon Price at $20/tonne in 2017

Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, which will launch at the beginning of 2017, is to include a carbon levy set at $20/tonne, rising to $30/tonne in 2018. The Government expects that the program will garner $9.6 billion in revenue, which it plans to reinvest in economic diversification and supports to households, SMEs, and vulnerable communities. The opposing Wildrose Party has characterized the carbon pricing scheme as a cash grab.

Also on Albertan climate policy, a report released on Earth Day by Greenpeace, the Alberta Green Economy Network, and Gridworks Energy Group estimates that the green economy will create 145 000 jobs in the province.

3. The ‘Carbon Bubble’ Prompts U.K. Conservative Mayoral Candidate to Back Fossil Fuel Divestment

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative candidate in London’s mayoral race, has said that, if elected, he will divest that city’s pension fund from oil, gas, and coal. Goldsmith plans to achieve fossil fuel divestment by appointing pro-divestment members to the fund’s board. Perhaps more interestingly, Goldsmith linked fossil fuel divestment to the risk of a ‘carbon bubble’ – a financial theory that has been advocated for recently by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. The carbon bubble points to systemic risks posed by the ‘unburnable carbon’ thesis (the notion that some fossil fuels will by necessity be left in the ground), which implies that coal, gas, and oil assets are overvalued.

4. Agitations for Fossil Fuel Divestment on Campuses Resulting in Socially Responsible Investment Policies, Disappointing Some

Columbia University students organized a sleep-out to protest their University’s investment in fossil fuel companies. This follows a decision in November by the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing that rejected a proposal for fossil fuel divestment, instead recommending targeted divestment. The protests at Columbia are emblematic of unfolding socially responsible investment politics in which normative calls for divestment are responded to with less exclusionary policies that draw on a mix of normative and financial arguments. This is in part because member- and mission-based organizations have fiduciary duties that render normative divestment challenging. Steps along these lines have recently been taken at the University of Toronto and Boston University. Additionally, Yale University divested $10 million in coal and tar sands investments, arguing that such investments will not be profitable if carbon is priced effectively. Of course, other institutions like Syracuse University have divested more categorically from fossil fuel extracting companies. In June the University of Massachusetts may follow Syracuse’s example. Still others, such as Stanford University, have adopted exclusionary investment policies but against coal producers only.

Also in campus fossil fuel divestment, Australian university students held a “Flood the Campus” campaign, undertaking protest actions at several major universities there.

5. Dalhousie SU Backs BDS

Dalhousie’s student union has voted to divest from Israeli companies that they argue are complicit in human rights abuses.