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Divestment in Greenwich – Green Electoral Gambit?

Yesterday the Labour candidate in the forthcoming Greenwich West by-election announced he had brokered a meeting between Divest Greenwich, which is campaigning for the Labour-controlled Royal Borough of Greenwich to withdraw its investments in fossil fuels, and council leader Denise Hyland.

Greenwich Green Party warmly welcomes any change of attitude on this issue. It follows Greenwich Council’s admission last month that it holds investments of around £17 million in companies associated with the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels.

That information was revealed as a direct result of a question from Greenwich Greens to the council.

At the time Denise Hyland sought to justify this investment policy by saying that the council has a legal obligation to maximise investment returns. Greenwich Greens are delighted if she now recognises that fossil fuel investments are potentially catastrophic financially as well as ethically unviable.

However the party is concerned this may be an electoral gambit while Labour is under pressure from the Greens in the by-election contest. Dr Robin Stott, Green Party candidate for the Greenwich West by-election and co-chair of the Climate and Health Council, worries that this apparent change of heart could be forgotten just as quickly if the Labour candidate is returned.

We pointed out four weeks ago that divestment from fossil fuels is a moral and financial obligation.

Most of the assets of fossil fuel companies consist of reserves that are still in the ground. If we reach global agreement on climate change, which we surely will do, those assets will plummet in value because it will no longer be possible to burn the coal, oil and gas currently in the ground.

So in maintaining those investments, the Royal Borough is not only behaving environmentally irresponsibly – it’s also taking a risky gamble with council taxpayers’ money. And this is all at a time when renewable energy is generating significant returns for investors.

If the council has now seen the error of its ways, nobody will be more pleased than me. As the Bible says, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just people who need no repentance.

However, cynics may wonder if this sudden conversion is a result of the strenuous campaign the Green Party is fighting to gain our first- ever seat on Greenwich Council. If so, I’m very glad we are getting our message across. But if the threat of a Green councillor can prompt such a sudden change of heart in the highest echelons of Woolwich Town Hall, just imagine what impact an elected Green councillor could have.

I also worry that if a miraculous conversion to Green investment policies can take place the week before an election, it could equally miraculously vanish the week after one.

If people want Green policies in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, I urge them to vote for a Green councillor, rather than an imitator, however flattering and well- meant that imitation may be.

Greenwich Council has investments via its Pension Fund worth around £17 million in 100 companies associated with the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels. Hundreds of institutions worldwide have already divested £31bn from these kind of investments as a way of tackling climate change.

As well as being the Green Party candidate in the Greenwich West by- election and a long-standing resident of the ward, Dr Robin Stott is co-chair of the Climate and Health Council, an international organisation of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who recognise the urgent need to address climate change to protect public health.