Fossil free Suffolk

Jane Basham, Vice Chair, South Suffolk Labour Party, November 2015


I’m a firm supporter of the campaign for a Fossil Free Suffolk and am pleased to have been invited to speak at this launch. On a personal level my commitment to defending our natural environment started as a teenager.

My abhorrence at how we treated animals in the name of science (vivisection) and feeding ourselves (factory farming) was so great that I became a vegetarian aged 16 and have remained one ever since. It was around this time that the Labour party became my natural political home.

For me politics is about doing what I believe to be right - not what's easy, convenient or lucrative or provides a quiet life.

It won’t surprise you to know that I have very little faith in the County Council and the commitment it claims to making Suffolk the ‘Greenest County’.

As the Labour candidate in South Suffolk in May I’ve had ample cause to question and challenge their  ‘green’ credentials on a number of issues - energy is a crucial one.

If you wanted to design a suite of policies to ensure the maximisation of people's energy consumption look no further than those of Suffolk County Council.

Their policies on land use, housing development, the location of services, closures and public transport subsidies could have been tailored to force people into cars and to increase their use.

For me their £117 million investment in fossil fuels to fund a pension pot is further evidence of their empty rhetoric and hypocrisy.  At a time when across the U.S.  disinvestment campaigns in fossil fuel within institutions from pension funds to universities is gathering pace, Suffolk's position exposes two things - the need for urgent fundamental change in the legal obligations of UK trustees and the 'couldn't-care-less inertia of our local elected Conservative political representatives.

It is estimated that the fossil fuel industry has 5 times as much carbon in its reserves as even the most conservative governments on earth say is safe to burn – but on the current course it will be burned – and so will the planet. 

Love him or hate him it’s ironic that just this week Prince Charles warned charities holding coal, oil or gas investments that these assets could “represent a significant conflict to their overall mission”.

He omitted to mention Councils. I’d say Suffolk County Councils continued investment in fossil fuels is in conflict with it’s overall mission of being the ‘Greenest County’.

Now I’m not sure how ‘green’ Goldman Sachs might be but even they’re telling their clients that the chances of a recovery in the worst polluting sector, the coal industry, looks bleak. So is our Council putting already beleaguered public sector workers pensions at risk?

For me, as a civil rights campaigner I believe there is an inextricable link between the destruction and exploitation of our planet and the oppression and exploitation of people. Can we deny that our heat and light is fuelled from fossil sources which include some of the most repressive political regimes on the planet?  

Climate change and fossil fuel divestment is a moral issue.

Imagine the difference Councils could make if they started treating fossil fuel manufacturers like pariahs and if they started to invest only in renewable energy companies? Imagine if they did this hand in hand with the Trades Union Council in order to provide vital reassurance and a strategy for workers affected by this change. I recommend their recent report ‘Green Collar Nation – A just transition to a low carbon economy’.

So I want Suffolk County Council to show moral leadership. I want them to pledge to sell their fossil fuel shares and to do so over the next 5 years. I also want them to spend a bit of time properly reviewing their investment portfolio to put people and our planet at the heart of all investment.

Desmond Tutu recently said “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change”.

Now’s the time for our elected leaders at the Council to show us that they are indeed the people of conscience we and our planet need them to be.

 

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