Dáil politicians energised by possibility of stranded assets as Bill passed

Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will have to sell off its €318m investments in fossil fuels

Burning issue: an oil rig operating for Providence Resources in Barryroe, off Co Cork. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke/Providence Resources/PA Wire

Burning issue: an oil rig operating for Providence Resources in Barryroe, off Co Cork. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke/Providence Resources/PA Wire

 

There was much talk in Dáil Éireann this week of divestment from public funds invested in fossil fuels and of banning oil and gas exploration, as politicians with newly-found energy expertise speculated on the possibility of stranded assets as renewables take over in the coming decade.

Talk converted into action with the passing of Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, which will force the State to get rid of its investments in oil, coal, gas and peat. Ireland is the first country in the world to do so.

This means the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (Isif) will have to sell off its investments in fossil fuels. As of June 2017, these stood at €318 million, across 150 companies worldwide.

According to the Bill’s sponsor, Independent TD Thomas Pringle, it will place increased onus on Isif and other State bodies to adhere to higher levels of due diligence, transparency and accountability around energy policy and investment decisions.

He was involved in prolonged negotiations with the Department of Finance, which culminated in Cabinet approving the legislation. It may be “the era of new politics” but it’s still rare for a Private Members’ Bill to become law.

Seismic shift

The divestment movement says existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change.

The Bill is a basic piece of legislation and yet substantive and symbolic. Of most significance was unanimity in the chamber on the need for decisive action on climate change; marking a seismic, cross-party shift on the issue.

Next up will be People Before Profit TD Brid Smith’s 2018 Climate Emergency Measures Bill, which proposes a ban on the future granting of licences for fossil fuel exploration and extraction in Ireland. This is arguably a more far-reaching move that has cleared first stage.

Its detractors, including some State agencies and utilities, told the Oireachtas environment committee this week that it would mark a return to 100 per cent importation of Ireland’s fossil fuels and do little to reduce carbon emissions.

The Government is unlikely to come on board with this one and will warn of increased energy prices. But, such is the era of new politics, that there could be enough votes elsewhere to get it across the line.