Divesting From Fossil Fuels: A Useful Strategy for Climate Justice?

Ben Richardson, University of Tasmania

Ben Richardson evaluated the rationales of the global divestment movement, and assessed the criticism levelled at each rationale in turn. Firstly, the legal responsibility of investors to address climate change risks is uncertain, often resting on fiduciary law. Secondly, avoidance of complicity by investors in the negative consequences of their investments can provide a rationale to remove an investment, however questions are often raised about thresholds for knowledge that equate to complicity. The leverage-based responsibility of investors to use their strategic influence links morality to ones’ capacity to effect change. This however is countered by arguments around the greater effectiveness of continuous engagement as a means to change corporate behaviour. Finally, the business-case for divestment is often considered the most powerful and persuasive rationale for the divestment movement, yet fossil fuel investments cannot yet be considered stranded assets. Divestment as a strategy for combatting climate change is paradoxical, as it would be served by better government regulation – yet such regulation would negate the need for divestment, by exerting control over the free market.

This talk was held at:

Imagining a Different Future

Climate Justice Conference

The University of Tasmania with the support of the University of Utrecht Ethics Institute hosted a multidisciplinary conference examining the barriers to responding to climate change, implementing climate justice, and proposing ways forward. Among the keynote speakers were Law Faculty Professors Jan McDonald and Ben Richardson. The Law Faculty's Dr Peter Lawrence co-convened the conference with Jan Linehan. The conference took place in Hobart from 8-9 Feb 2018.

Despite the Paris Agreement, there are real concerns the prevailing neoliberal economic and political model, particularly with the move to more insular, nationalistic, fragile politics, cannot respond effectively to climate change and excludes key considerations such as ethics and justice. Videos and Podcasts from the conference are available on the Knowledge Hub.