Climate scientists have been able to calculate a global carbon budget that details the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted while still allowing a reasonable chance of keeping within 2°C of warming – the threshold temperature increase above which there is likely to be dangerous climate change. In light of this, it is becoming untenable for policymakers and business leaders to ignore climate change. At present, global efforts to keep within this carbon budget are falling well short, and the current rate of decarbonisation shows that the carbon budget will have been exceeded by 2034.
Research has shown that the potential greenhouse gas emissions from use of the fossil fuel reserves held by the world’s largest 100 listed coal companies and the world’s largest 100 oil and gas companies also exceeds the global carbon budget. Such companies continue to explore for fossil fuel reserves, so the gap between the amount of fossil fuels available to burn and the amount that should be burned is set to increase.
These points highlight the disconnection between the scientific consensus on climate change and the response from policymakers and business leaders in the energy sector. In response to this disconnection, the fossil fuel divestment campaign aims to pressure governments – via legislation – to limit the amount of fossil fuels that can be extracted and used; pressure fossil fuel companies to shift to cleaner, less carbon-intensive forms of energy; and pressure governments to implement a ban on fossil fuel exploration and subsidies. This campaign is being spearheaded by 350.org, which focuses primarily on universities but is also gaining traction with religious and public sector asset owners and pension funds.