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Amnesty international votes to divest from fossil fuel companies

    August 06, 2019

    Amnesty International will divest from fossil fuel companies in acknowledgement that investment in an industry whose products are the primary source of the climate crisis is at odds with the organization’s mission of protecting and championing human rights.

    The decision was taken at Amnesty’s highest decision-making forum - the Global Assembly – which is formed of delegates from around the world. The assembly also voted to take further steps to reduce the organization’s climate impact including by aiming to be totally carbon neutral by 2035, to slash air travel by a third and move towards holding more international meetings virtually.

    “Fossil fuel companies know that their business model is resulting in human suffering because of its lethal contribution to climate change. As the world’s largest human rights organization, we want to send a clear message that continued investment in coal, oil and natural gas companies is at odds with human rights, because of the direct link between their activities and climate disaster,” said Mwikali Muthiani, Chair of the International Board of Amnesty International.

    “Climate change has grave implications for human rights, threatening our rights to health, water, food, housing, and life among other civil and political rights. These risks are even graver for communities living in poverty or whose rights are already threatened or poorly protected by their governments.

    “We need to remember who is responsible and accountable for the crisis humanity is facing. The primary reason we are in this mess is because governments and corporations are refusing to take the necessary steps to move away from dangerous fossil fuels and invest in developing clean technologies.”

    The use of fossil fuels is the main cause of climate change, exacerbating natural disasters and environmental degradation that in turn causes massive loss of life, destruction of communities and economies.

    All corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights and to take pro-active steps to make sure they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. Yet fossil fuel companies have so far failed to take adequate steps to shift towards human rights-consistent renewable energy, despite their considerable capacity to do so.

    “Too many financial institutions treat fossil fuel companies as an acceptable mainstream investment. It is time for all of us to question whether they should instead be seen as a deadly gamble that jeopardies all of our futures,” said Mwikali Muthiani. 

    The decision means all of Amnesty International’s entities, which include the International Secretariat and country offices, must ensure that all assets under their sole and direct control are not invested in fossil fuel companies, and divest any existing assets from fossil fuel companies. A working group will be formed to prepare guidance on how to implement the decision.

    Amnesty International joins major insurers, faith groups, sovereign wealth funds and universities in choosing to divest from fossil fuel companies. Since it was first launched as a call for climate action by students in 2011, more than 1,110 investors with $9.94 trillion in assets have committed to divest.

    “While this is a vote against investing in fossil fuel companies, this is also a vote for moving towards human rights-consistent renewable energy and technologies. The divestment movement has been a powerful force in showing the world that all of us can make the choice to invest in the solutions to the climate crisis,” said Mwikali Muthiani.

    The decision also underlines the organization’s intention to target companies as part of its global work on corporate accountability, in order to promote a shift away from fossil fuels and towards human rights consistent renewable energy.

    “Amnesty International has a well-recognised expertise and track record in exposing severe human rights abuses by corporations, campaigning to prevent such abuses and ensuring accountability for survivors. We hope to build on this work, and this decision underscores our intention to scrutinize fossil fuel companies for their human rights impacts as part of our strategy on climate change and environmental degradation,” said Mwikali Muthiani.

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    For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English), + 613-744-7667 ext. 236, lscholey@amnesty.ca 

    Notes to editors

    Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, will be available for interview at the Global Climate Divest-Invest Summit in Cape Town in September. The conference will take place September 10-11, 2019.

    Background

    • Fossil fuel companies have been historically among the most responsible for climate change – and this continues today. Research shows that just 100 fossil fuel-producing companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
    • There is growing evidence that major fossil fuel companies have known for decades about the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels and have attempted to suppress that information and block efforts to tackle climate change. The power of fossil fuel companies must be weakened in order to allow governments to rapidly transition towards a zero-carbon economy.
    • This year the Philippines Human Rights Commission will publish its investigation into the responsibility of major fossil fuel companies for human rights abuses because of their contribution to climate change. This is the first world investigation of this kind: Amnesty supported Greenpeace in strengthening the human rights arguments of the petition and our Secretary General testified at the hearings. Although the findings and recommendations will not be binding, if positive, they could lead to tougher regulations, could intensify public pressure on the companies to move away from fossil fuels and could become a foundation for lawsuits around the world.
    • Since the early 2010s, the divestment movement has been exponentially growing. It started with students-led campaigns in US universities to divest the universities’ endowments from coal and has since then grown into a well-known social movement and an important strand of the climate justice movement. The Divest/Invest movement also targets public and private institutions, including banks and insurers, to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry and increase investment in clean energy.
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