Members and Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians are co-ordinating this letter to the college President and Treasurer encouraging them to end the college’s investment in the fossil fuel industry.
Just 100 fossil fuel companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Fossil fuel driven climate change is already impacting the health of millions and threatens to reverse the last half century of gains in global health.
The fossil fuel industry has undermined climate science for many years and continues to lobby obstructively to frustrate real climate progress.
The RCP could make a valuable contribution to global climate action by committing to phase out its investments in the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel divestment would also protect the College from the financial, reputational and legal concerns that are now associated with retaining investments in the fossil fuel industry.
We’re asking RCP members and fellows to sign this letter – and to share it widely with their RCP colleagues and networks.
To the RCP President and Treasurer
We write to you as concerned RCP fellows and members, to express our support for ending the College’s investment in oil, gas and coal companies.
We are aware of the RCP’s work to address climate change, air pollution and waste production and welcome its recent reports on these important issues. However, we are deeply concerned that College continues to hold investments in the fossil fuel industry.
The fossil fuel industry poses a serious threat to human health. Just 100 fossil fuel companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 19881. Fossil fuel driven climate change is already impacting the health of millions2 and threatens to reverse the last half century of gains in global health3.
The fossil fuel industry has undermined climate science for many years and continues to lobby obstructively to frustrate real climate progress4.
Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to air pollution, which kills 7 million people every year according to the World Health Organisation5. This is similar to the number of deaths caused by tobacco each year.
By sitting by, whilst our principal professional body, the RCP, continues to invest in and therefore endorse the fossil fuel industry’s actions, we become a party to these effects. Even if we have no concerns about the consequences to our patients, the public & ourselves, then we need to consider future generations of humans including our children, grandchildren & their future progeny. In all conscience we cannot continue to support this sort of industry.
Decades of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies has failed to make them switch their core business models away from fossil fuels6. In October 2018, the Shell CEO confirmed that “Shell’s core business is, and will be for the foreseeable future, very much in oil and gas”7.
The fossil fuel reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C8. Holding warming to the temperature limits set in the Paris Climate Agreement necessitates that some fossil fuel mines or fields should be closed before their reserves are fully exploited8 and requires that no new fossil fuel sites be opened. Exploration for new reserves should be firmly off the table. Despite this, fossil fuel companies continue to start new fossil fuel projects and to explore for even more fossil fuel reserves. Commenting on a large deep water oil discovery last year Shell boasted that it “showcases our expertise in discovering new, commercial resources…helping deliver our deep water growth priority”9. Meanwhile Total is launching its biggest exploration campaign for years10. There is no time left to ‘engage’ with such companies.
A UK barrister specializing in charity law, has stated that investments that that are inconsistent with the objects of charity must be excluded and suggested that investments in coal, oil and gas companies could be irreconcilable11 with the mission of health charities.
The Royal College of General Practitioners, recently committed to ending its investment in fossil fuels. It joined a growing number of divesting healthcare organisations such as the American Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association and the Faculty of Public Health. It is time for the RCP to do the same.
In addition to the moral, legal and reputational concerns with fossil fuel investments there are now financial concerns as well. Fossil fuel stocks, once prime blue-chip contributors to institutional funds, are now increasingly speculative. Revenues are volatile12 and the outlook is decidedly negative. Fossil fuel stocks are already dragging down portfolio returns, causing investors to lose billions of dollars13. The future risk posed by fossil fuel investments is even more concerning as they will soon drop permanently in value. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England has stated that a carbon budget consistent with a 2°C target “would render the vast majority of reserves ‘stranded’ — oil, gas and coal that will be literally unburnable”14. Even if new climate policies are not introduced, modelling has shown that some fossil fuel asset stranding will nevertheless occur due to the already ongoing low carbon technological trajectory15.
The RCP is in its 500th year, it has achieved this longevity by listening to its members and fellows, and by continuous evolution and innovation. We are therefore hopeful that you will heed our concerns and make a commitment this year to end the RCP’s investment in fossil fuels as soon as possible and by 2022 at the latest. This would allow the RCP to become a leader on climate action and would set an important precedent to other institutions around the world.
We hope that the urgency of the threat posed by climate change, the danger it poses to global health, the concerns of the wider public and the medical profession will all give the RCP the encouragement it needs to stop supporting the fossil fuel industry through its investments.
She leads Medact's work on the Fossil Free Health campaign.