Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

The British Medical Journal Joins the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The British Medical Journal (The BMJ) recently announced a fossil fuel divestment campaign in an editorial that urged health professionals and medical organizations to do their part to push for a low-carbon economy worldwide.

“Health professionals and medical organizations should not accept the world as it is. This is not a matter of playing party politics or anticorporate posturing. Taking action is a duty to the people we serve and to future generations,” executive editor Kamran Abbasi and editor in chief Fiona Godlee stated.

Abbasi and Godlee explained that The BMJ will now decline any advertising or research provided by companies that produce fossil fuels. They acknowledged that their parent organization, the British Medical Association, does not have direct holdings in fossil fuel companies. The journal’s campaign is directed to health professionals and medical organizations, and one aim of the campaign is to get health professionals and medical organizations to divest from fossil fuels. To that end, they urged medical organizations and health professionals to sign an online declaration of their intent to divest from fossil fuels.

The growing fossil fuel divestment movement

Presently, at least 1,180 institutions have divested almost $14 trillion from fossil fuels. It is a movement that is growing rapidly. 350.org noted in September that it took two years to shift the first $2 trillion but only took just under six months to shift $2 trillion in 2019.

In the last few months of 2019, several big financial institutions announced fossil fuel divestment. The most recent announcement came from BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager. In a letter to clients, BlackRock stated that it will remove from its discretionary active investment by the middle of 2020 the public securities of companies that generate over 25 of their revenues from thermal coal production. The company also announced it will not make “future direct investments” in companies that derive over 25 percent of their revenues from thermal coal production.

Goldman Sachs announced in December 2019 it will stop direct financing for new or expanding thermal coal mines and coal-fired power plant projects globally and will stop direct financing for new Arctic oil exploration and production. It is the first major U.S. bank to put such restrictions on financing for the oil and gas sector.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) announced in November 2019 that it will end financing for fossil fuel energy projects starting from the end of 2021. In addition to fossil fuel divestment, the EIB will accelerate its financing for clean energy innovation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. The EIB Group financing will unlock a total of $1 trillion for climate action and environmentally sustainable investment for the next decade.

Does divestment reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Not everyone is convinced that fossil fuel divestment reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A paper by the Environmental Change Institute and the University of Oxford points out that while divestment campaigns bring more awareness they “may not stop climate change” because divestiture itself “does not address fossil fuel demand.” Divestment needs to be “coupled with investment in clean energy solutions to replace fossil fuels,” according to the paper’s writers.

Bill Gates thinks that calling for fossil fuel divestment is a waste of time. “Divestment, to date, probably has reduced about zero tonnes of emissions,” he told the Financial Times. “It’s not like you’ve capital-starved [the] people making steel and gasoline.”

Gates thinks that funding innovation is a better way to reduce emissions. “When I’m taking billions of dollars and creating breakthrough energy ventures and funding only companies who, if they’re successful, reduce greenhouse gases by 0.5 percent, then I actually do see a cause and effect type thing,” he said.

Stefan Andreasson, a senior lecturer in comparative politics at Queen’s University Belfast wrote a piece for The Conversation, arguing that “divestment will not lower demand for fossil fuels” and “may even cause emissions to rise.” He reasons that divestment works for coal because it is in decline, but oil is used for many more processes than energy and is used to manufacture some products such as plastic.

The demand for oil will only increase, Andreasson believes, so what divestment will do is drive investment from international oil companies (IOCs), which are private corporations based in Western nations, to national oil companies (NOCs), which are state-owned and less transparent. “IOCs are also generally better placed and more willing than are NOCs to reduce the carbon intensity of their products and support the transition to renewable energy,” he wrote.

Image credit: Johannes Plenio/Pixabay

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman