Ireland is on track to become the first country in the world to oust fossil fuels entirely, indicating a major leap forward for a movement that is catching on with environmentalists.
The lower house of Ireland’s parliament voted Thursday in favor of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, legislation that calls for the country’s national investment fund to sell all of its investment in coal, gas, oil and peat. The bill, which earned all-party support, mandates the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies “as soon as is practicable,” which will likely mean fives years time.
Under the bill, any company that derives at least 20 percent of its revenue from extraction, exploration or refinement from fossil fuels is considered a fossil fuel company. Companies will be given an exception if investment funds are given as a means to shift them away from fossil fuels.
“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” stated Thomas Pringle, according to the Guardian. Pringle is an independent member of parliament who first introduced the bill in 2016 and has been pushing it ever since. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”
While Pringle’s bill has only passed the lower house of Parliament, it is expected to pass the upper house quickly and become law by the end of 2018.
Action by Irish lawmakers follows growing calls by environmentalists to divest from fossil fuels, believing it to be a means to battle climate change. British students in May went on a hunger strike in an attempt to force their school to divest. Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in January that his office was weighing divestment options in the city’s pension funds. Kat Taylor, wife of environmental activist Tom Steyer, resigned from her Harvard University board position in protest over the school’s reluctance to repeal its investments.
The vote in Ireland’s lower parliament also follows what appears to be a leftward trend in the country. Citizens voted in May to legalize abortion, removing a constitutional ban that was in place since 1983. Despite being a predominantly Catholic country, the abortion referendum ended up being a landslide in favor of greater abortion rights. (RELATED: Former State Treasurer: Mayor De Blasio’s Divestment Politics Putting Pensions At Risk)
While many progressives have embraced the idea of fossil fuel divestment, some investment experts argue that the pension funds retirees greatly depend on should not be politicized.
“It is hypocritical for the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies when the energy sector supports almost 50,000 jobs. The fund has a mandate to support the economy and to ‘invest on a commercial basis in a manner designed to support economic activity and employment in Ireland,’” the Institute for Pension Fund Integrity said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity works to protect pension funds from politicization, encouraging government leaders to focus on investments that are objectively best for retirees.
“This political maneuver was ill-advised and as an organization that exists to keep politics out of the management of public funds, IPFI cannot condone this action,” the group continued in its statement.
Christopher Burnham, a former state treasurer and IPFI president, put the Ireland vote in more stark terms: “This is mad! My Irish-American grandmother is rolling over in her grave.”
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