Coal Divestment Is Just the Beginning - Let's Not Forget About Oil & Gas

The "end of coal" is no longer an activist pipe dream. It's a reality that's gaining growing acceptance from High Street to Wall Street as investors divest billions of dollars from this dirtiest of fossil fuels. But the end of coal won't solve the climate crisis. If we want a liveable planet, we need to get off all fossil fuels, oil and gas included.

As social movements rise and renewable prices fall, it's unsurprising that coal has seen a flurry of divestment. Aside from its devastating impacts on our health, climate and communities, most coal stocks have tanked so low that they're bad investments on financial grounds alone. $1 invested in Peabody back in 2011 is worth just 8 cents today.

Smart investors like Stanford University, with their $18bn endowment, and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, with its $900bn, are getting their money out of coal. And as they do, they are sending a powerful message to Governments that a coal-fuelled economy is not compatible with a liveable planet.

But divesting from coal alone won't stop the mercury rising to dangerous levels. Norway and Stanford have shown great leadership but they have more work to do.

Coal may be the most polluting fossil fuel, but scientists are clear that at least 80% of all fossil fuels must stay in the ground. If we are serious about tackling climate change, oil and gas will have to go too. Divesting from coal alone is like taking a part time approach to quitting smoking. It will kill you more slowly - but eventually it will kill you.

When an institution divests from fossil fuels, it is acknowledging that it's wrong to profit from companies that are wrecking the planet. That clearly applies to oil and gas companies as well. Yet, in talking to dozens of investors about fossil fuel divestment, we often find that the conversation stalls when we turn to oil and gas. It's as if, because oil and gas are slightly less polluting, they are somehow acceptable. But, just like the part time smoker, an oil and gas fuelled economy might destroy the planet a little slower than a coal-based one, but it will still destroy it.

In fact, companies like Exxon and Chevron do even more to wreck the climate, harm public health, and corrupt our politics than most coal companies. For 27 years, Exxon has poured millions into funding climate deniers. Meanwhile, the oil industry has worked systematically to keep us addicted to their product, from ripping up public transit to blocking climate legislation. This is exactly why we need to weaken their political power by divesting.

When asked how they plan to deal with climate change at recent shareholder meetings, Exxon and Chevron defended their right to let the planet burn, arguing that Governments have shown no sign they are capable of limiting warming to 2 degrees. Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson even commented: "What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?" It's unconscionable to invest in companies that conduct themselves with such immorality. Former Shell Chairman Mark Moody Stuart agrees - stating that "fossil fuel divestment" is a rational response to the industry's "distressing" lack of climate action.

And the extent of Big Oil and Gas' recklessness isn't limited to the climate. The industry has a track record of running roughshod over indigenous rights, pillorying precious ecosystems and dispossessing honest, decent people of their land - all so they can drill up some dirty short-term profits. It's no surprise that Exxon's Tillerson fought so hard to stop fracking in his neighbourhood. A backyard free from corporate interference is a right that everyone understands, even fossil fuel barons...when it suits them.

The fact that we still use oil and gas isn't a reason not to divest from those companies. Abolitionists still fought slavery when it was at the centre of the economy. Consumer advocates drove cars while they pushed for safer seatbelts. Education activists still send their children to class while they work for better schools. As investors divest from Big Oil and Gas, it frees up political and financial capital to create a better future.

Whilst coal does the most to pollute our climate, Big Oil and Gas do just as much if not more to corrupt our politics and ensure that a safe climate is unattainable. Like Big Coal, they're the major power players we need to expose in order to make space for progress. Coal divestment is an important first step in the fight to halt dangerous climate change, but winning this fight means that we must divest from all fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas.