The Carbon Bubble: Why is it threatening to our Pensions?

By Anni Piiroinen, Politics and Theater Student

The concept of a carbon bubble was created in 2011 by think-tank Carbon Tracker in their report ‘Unburnable Carbon’. It is based on the mismatch between a) the amount of CO2 represented by fossil fuels found so far, and b) the amount of CO2 that we are able to emit if we aim to limit global warming to 2°C. In the Cancun agreements of 2010, during the UN climate talks, governments pledged to the limit of 2°C, in order to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change. According to the Potsdam Climate Institute, staying under 2°C requires capping global carbon emissions in 2000-2050 at 886 GtCO2 (gigatonnes of carbon equivalent). A third of this ‘carbon budget’ had already been used by 2011, leaving us with 565 GtCO2 to last until 2050. However, the total potential emissions of current fossil fuel reserves were calculated to be 2795 Gt CO2, almost five times more than the carbon budget allows us to burn before 2050.  This mismatch is represented by Carbon Tracker in the figure below.

Carbon bubbleSource: Carbon Tracker Initiative, ‘Unburnable Carbon’.

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Uncovering: Exxon’s Big Lie

By Mathieu Munsch, PhD student at the University of Strathclyde

Over the summer 2015, a team of investigative journalists at the Pullitzer-price winning news website Inside Climate News uncovered what may very well turn out to be the single biggest crime a corporation has ever been responsible for.

They discovered, through meticulous gathering of evidence from archives, leaked documents and interviews with ex-employees that the oil giant Exxon Mobil was well aware of the impact of its activities on the climate as early as the late 1970s, but willingly silenced that information and embarked on a multimillion dollar campaign to spread doubt about man-made climate change and delay government action to solve it.

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Uncovering: Shell

By Isabella Nilsen

Shell is one of the companies that the Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) is investing in. Shell’s oil drilling and extensive exploration for resources in the Niger Delta has made an extensive damage to the communities in the area, as well as the environment. This has been going on for a long time, and it needs to stop. However, for that to happen, people need to stop profiting from the damage, which is why the SPF need to divest.

The Niger Delta is situated in the south of Nigeria, and is one of the world’s largest wetlands[1] and the home for nearly 30 million people[2].It is truly ironic that Shell claims to be ’working with the communities’[3], when they have been using substandard techniques for drilling oil that has had a lasting effect on the people living in the area: higher rates of cancer and asthma due to gas flaring[4]; oil spills leading to a lack of clean water and a lack of food safe enough to eat, all in all resulting in that many have had to abandon their homes[5].

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Just Transition

By John Thorne, Environmental Officer at Glasgow School of Art

The move from a fossil fuel based economy to a clean energy economy will mean major changes within our economy and society – we think for the better. To ensure none are left behind we will need to make a “Just Transition”. Workers, unions, and their communities will be equal partners in ensuring that workers are retrained and re-employed. To achieve this, government and industry must join together to ensure benefits to the economy and environment are maximised, redistributing subsidies and changing tax regimes to create long-lasting, secure jobs that create clean energy.

Big Oil is Big Business: it employs 156,000 people in Scotland[1], 450,000 across the UK and brought in £6.5Bn in taxes to the UK Government in 2012.[2] 40Bn barrels have been extracted from the North Sea over the last 50 years and the next 40 years could see another 24Bn.

But oil production peaked in 1999, and recent work by Carbon Tracker shows that for any chance to keep below 2°c of global warming we need to leave the majority of oil and gas where it is.[3]

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