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Frequently Asked Questions

We anticipate that our report will raise many questions. This FAQ aims to answer some of the common questions that we have heard over these past few years. The FAQ is split into three sections - the first answers questions about our overall campaign, the second covers divestment, and the third covers scholarships. We hope that this FAQ will help provide further clarity on the thinking behind our report.

  • What does this campaign aim to do?
    There are two main goals for this two-week public campaign: Create awareness among students, faculty, university administration, and the public regarding the problematic ties that fossil-fuel companies have with our local universities and the risks which those connections create in further granting the fossil fuel industry a social license* to operate. Initiate conversations and catalyse actions on how universities can move away from their current stance towards the fossil fuel industry and towards a focus on a fossil-free transition. Our report contains several recommendations on how our universities can lead a fossil-free transition, however, it is our hope that this campaign can encourage more engagements and discussions with affected groups on the implications of shifting away from the fossil fuel industry. *Social license refers to the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry’s standard business practices and operating procedures by its employees, stakeholders and the general public.
  • Who are the people behind this campaign?
    Our team consists of students from across four local universities: NUS/Yale-NUS, NTU, SMU, and SUTD. This campaign is the product of (unpaid) labour and care rooted in our belief in the importance of a liveable future and a recognition that greater awareness on the part of all stakeholders is necessary to incentivise university leaders to make this urgent transition. You can read more about us here.
  • What are the demands of the campaign?
    The full demands of our campaign are listed in our report and they can also be found here.
  • Why focus on fossil fuel companies only?
    The climate crisis is a key threat to our lives. We are aware that there could be other potential problematic connections to universities (weapons, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and other human right violations) and encourage other groups interested in these topics to shed light on these issues as well. As a small, volunteer-based team, we have chosen to focus our scope on the fossil fuel industry. Furthermore, as students, we believe it is unjust for our local universities to continue to profit off a climate crisis that will threaten future generations to come. The report thoroughly details our rationale. We know this is possible. 220 schools around the world have committed to fossil fuel divestment and 69% of divesting institutions are outside of the United States. The National Taiwan University (NTU) Student Association spearheaded Asia’s first divestment campaign and the university has completed full divestment in 2021, event establishing an investment assessment mechanism to track the social and environmental performance of funds they are investing or looking to investing in. We are here to take their lead in pushing our universities to do better.
  • Have you tried communicating your concerns and demands to your universities?
    Yes, we have, but previously only on divestment. In those meetings, we have had preliminary conversations about divestment but received no concrete commitment that the university would cease any new investment in the fossil fuel industry. We would like to use this report to shed further light on issues outside of divestment and we invite the university administration to hold discussions on these topics which are close to our heart. It is our hope that our universities will consider our demands and take bold leadership in implementing them.
  • What can I do to support this campaign?
    Read the report and endorse the report as an individual and as an organization. If you are interested to endorse as an organization, please contact us directly through email or social media. Attend one (or more!) of the many events that various campus environmental student groups are organizing. View the line-up of events here on social media & join in! Support our art sale by purchasing our digital zine, prints and pins. Join the campaign by organising groups within your campuses! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Share the report with your friends, family and networks!
  • What are the next steps for this campaign?
    We know that two weeks is not enough time for people to discuss the details of recommendations for our universities and for universities to make those commitments. This campaign is a starting point for more meaningful discussions related to our asks. We aim to support individuals and groups who are interested to work on the problems we have raised and create plans to ensure our universities follow through with the recommendations. Moreover, we want to see more engagement with affected stakeholders on these asks and find better solutions that cause the least harm.
  • How much do local unis have invested in fossil fuels?
    Most Singaporean universities have indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry. NUS has an undisclosed, single-digit percentage of its total endowment indirectly invested in fossil fuels, the lower-bound amounting to $59m. Yale-NUS College's endowment is pooled together with NUS'. NTU has an undisclosed percentage of its endowment indirectly invested in the industry while for SMU, SUTD, SIM, and SIT, it is undisclosed whether the endowment is invested in fossil fuels.
  • How do universities divest if they are not directly invested in fossil fuels?
    How NTU & NUS invest: NTU & NUS invest their endowments largely through pooled vehicles (i.e. they give their money to a fund manager, which combines that with other money from other investors and takes all that money and invests it in a huge range of companies). As a result, investment exposure to fossil fuels is indirect. There are several other universities that likewise invest indirectly in fossil fuels and have divested/ outlined a divestment plan: How universities can remove their indirect fossil fuel investments:
  • Is divestment financially sound?
    Yes. Studies have found that removing fossil fuel investments from an investment portfolio has no impact on the performance of the portfolio as a whole. Fossil fuel investments could actually pose financial risks to investors: They are projected to lose their value and become stranded assets sometime before 2035 due to changes that come with a global transition to a low-carbon economy. Fossil fuel companies follow a business model that is completely incompatible with international agreements on mitigating climate change. If governments abide by these agreements, such investments will become worthless as fossil fuel companies would not be allowed to extract all the fossil fuels reserves they currently hold. Hence, Fossil fuel exclusions can conversely increase stability of a portfolio by minimising stranded asset risks of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry and its stocks perform poorly in comparison to other sectors "Energy was the S&P 500’s worst-performing sector in 2014 and 2015, and again in 2018 and 2019." (Langley, 2020) If these stocks are risky, then the public and value-based institutions should not be holding them. The financial logic of divestment has already been recognised by many organisations: A 2015 analysis by MSCI, the world’s leading stock market index company, indicated that portfolios free of fossil fuel investments have outperformed those with assets in coal, oil and gas companies from 2010-2015. Over 180 organisations have already opted to divest. The most notable is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, founded on a famous oil fortune. Valerie Rockefeller Wayne noted that it was illogical to fund companies that cause the problems being tackled by their programmes: “We had investments that were undermining our grants." The World Bank, Bank of England, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Standard and Poor’s have supported the financial argument for divestment, warning that only a small amount of fossil fuel reserves can now be safely burned, with the remainder likely to plummet in value. Lastly, fossil fuel exclusions do not necessarily mean less diversification, as it could free up funds for reinvestment in new and emerging industries such as renewables and other alternative technologies: “... full divestment may reduce returns and increase risk. Substituting clean energy stocks for fossil fuel stocks, however, may increase returns and reduce risk.” (Henriques & Sadorsky, 2018) “Fossil fuel stocks do not outperform and provide limited diversification benefits” (Trinks, et al., 2018)"
  • How is divestment climate action?
    Why divestment is important: Reports from climate scientists point to a need to make drastic cuts to emissions in order to prevent catastrophic climate change — a significant proportion of these emissions coming from the fossil fuel industry. Researchers have found that more than 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves cannot be burnt in order to keep to a two degree celsius target as laid out in the Paris Agreement. But fossil fuel companies are currently banking on these targets not being met so are extracting these reserves and selling them + they are actively prospecting for more. The CEO of Shell said the company would stick with these plans to increase carbon emissions despite the recent Dutch court ruling calling for them to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell is also still participating in new oil and gas projects, such as the exploration project near Shetland, Scotland. Efforts to reduce emissions have been inhibited by the fossil fuel industry which has dedicated enormous resources to undermining climate action + sowing denial about climate change. Divestment thus seeks to confront the power of the fossil fuel industry by removing their moral, social, and financial licence and seeking more sustainable alternatives. Social/moral license is built up when institutions with moral and scientific authority, like universities, carry the name and branding of fossil fuel companies. This creates positive associations with fossil fuel companies and their products in the public’s mind. Hence removing these positive associations can contribute to society-wide efforts to reduce demand for pollutive fossil fuels and increase investment in take-up of cleaner alternatives. The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign: “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC). (2015)
  • How can divestment be defined (i.e. what is a company that needs divestment from)?
    There are many ways to define which companies should be considered fossil fuel companies. For example, one yardstick the global divestment movement uses is the removal of funds from the top 200 fossil fuel companies globally (100 coal companies and 100 oil and gas) identified by FFI Solutions, based on the projected carbon emissions of their reserves. It’s reasonable for our universities to take time to set a definition, but we need a timeline within which a definition is set, and divestment afterwards is implemented.
  • What is divestment’s theory of change or can divestment make a real financial impact to the industry?
    In a nutshell: divestment’s theory of change is NOT about financial destabilization, it is about delegitimising the fossil fuel industry. It is not about bankrupting the fossil fuel industry financially (which is near impossible), but bankrupting them morally and socially. In the same way that our universities would never invest in companies that produce cigarettes because of the moral and social implications, they should not be investing in fossil fuels. Strategic investments of institutions have social implications. Divestment stigmatises the product/industry being divested from. Fossil fuel companies have been purposefully misleading the public and casting doubts on science for decades and spending their wealth on propaganda to retain public approval. These companies still have huge political and social power in society, making it difficult for politicians to act against them. Eliminating the industry’s social license will help give leaders more political will to say no to fossil fuel infrastructure and transition to the just and sustainable economy we need. Social/moral license is built up when institutions with moral and scientific authority, like universities, carry the name and branding of fossil fuel companies. This creates positive associations with fossil fuel companies and their products in the public’s mind. Hence removing these positive associations can contribute to society-wide efforts to reduce demand for pollutive fossil fuels and increase take-up of clean alternatives. Historically, divestment has worked before. The largest divestment campaign to date was over the issue of South African apartheid; hundreds of universities, governments, counties and cities divested their money from companies doing business in the country. Despite the numerous wrongdoings of Big Oil, there is a lack of public condemnation for these companies, which is slowing the progress of government structures which could otherwise be legislating strict regulations on the industry. As reputable and highly renowned institutions in Singapore, our universities have the power to send a clear message to politicians, private and public sectors, that the future is fossil free.
  • Wouldn’t the stocks be picked up by investors who don’t care about climate change i.e. the companies will be unaffected?
    Yes, others may buy the stocks but amounts being divested are too small to flood the market and cut share prices, so they won’t be going cheap. The aim of divestment is not to bankrupt fossil fuel companies financially but to impoverish them morally and socially. This undermines their influence and helps create the political space for strong carbon-cutting policies – and that could have financial consequences. Research by Oxford University pointed out that the financial loss from the divestment campaign will not be felt through the shares sold but through the reputation lost by these companies by being stigmatised. Our institutions have a reputation as being a centre of science, understanding, moral integrity, and forward-thinking, and should live up to it.
  • Isn't divestment just gesture politics and not meaningful action?
    Our demands go beyond divestment and include a range of ways to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry, including removing the name branding of fossil fuel companies from scholarships and prizes, and ceasing new industry partnership programs with fossil fuel companies. These demands aim to redirect university students to more sustainable industries. The dumping of a few fossil stocks makes no immediate difference at all to the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. But this entirely misses the point of divestment, which aims to remove the moral, political and social legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry. From a report from Oxford University: “The outcome of the stigmatisation process poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies. Any direct impacts pale in comparison.” The “gesture politics” criticism also ignores the political power of the fossil fuel industry, which spent over $400m on lobbying and political donations in 2012 in the US alone. Undercutting that lobbying makes it easier for politicians to take action; the Oxford study showed that previous divestment campaigns – against apartheid South Africa, tobacco and Darfur – were all followed by restrictive new laws. By divesting from fossil-fuel companies, institutions signal that it is time to change their way of doing business. By doing so, institutions also lead the way in questioning how socially acceptable and ethical such companies are. Divestment, beyond being secondarily an investment issue, is primarily about aligning our university’s actions with its values.
  • Why not stakeholder engagement instead of divestment?
    This argument would have merit if there was much evidence to support it. If a few customers tell a shop to stock different products, the shopkeeper would be unlikely to listen. If investors and big customers stop spending on those products though, the shopkeeper will be more likely to pivot. Campaigner Bill McKibben has pointed out, engagement is unlikely to persuade a company to commit to eventually putting itself out of business. The fact that oil companies have persisted in projecting growth in fossil fuel production in their business plans shows that whatever current engagement strategies have failed to secure commitments to stop exploration and decline production to zero by a reasonable timeline. We are running out of time, and so t’s time for a different approach. E.g. Shell’s climate plans are expressed in terms of carbon intensity targets, rather than absolute reductions in emissions which is what’s needed to meet 1.5 or 2°C targets. The CEO said the company would stick with these plans to increase carbon emissions despite the recent Dutch court ruling calling for them to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell is also still participating in new oil and gas projects, such as the exploration project near Shetland, Scotland. Given our universities’ scope of investment (indirect), the level of stakeholder engagement we can have with these companies through investment managers becomes very limited, and the impact of the social pressure that we can make through divestment is far greater. Secondly, how these corporations are structured are inherently geared towards short term profits and incentives that heavily skew the odds against us making meaningful change within their systems. Furthermore, if our universities want to engage with these companies via shareholder dialogue instead of divestment, then our universities must produce receipts. We need evidence of how our universities’ investment managers have voted on climate and emission resolutions, and clear proof that our universities are using the money we have in these companies to push them in the direction we need them to move. Otherwise, there is no excuse to continue to hold shares in these companies.
  • Most fossil fuels are owned by state-controlled companies, not the publicly traded companies targeted by divestment"
    The International Energy Agency estimates that 74% of all coal, oil and gas reserves are owned by state-controlled companies. The most straightforward response to this is that divestment is just one of many ways of trying to curb carbon emissions and that international action at state level will of course be essential. Divestment is not our only demand. Some of our other goals are: Implement climate education + expand research opportunities for climate justice; Remove scholarships and prizes from fossil fuel companies; Restrict the employment of fossil fuel professionals on the board; Secure partnerships with sustainable, sunrise industries. There are still reasons why divestment could help: The listed fossil fuel companies have huge influence and undermining their power could embolden politicians in leading nations to deliver ambitious international climate action. Many of the biggest state-controlled companies are also listed on stock exchanges, meaning they might be part of investment portfolios; this is where divestment would be useful. Lastly, the exploration of extreme and most expensive hydrocarbons that really must stay in the ground – such as tar sands, the Arctic and ultra deep water reserves – are almost exclusively done by listed companies.
  • Doesn’t divestment conflict with other developmental goals like ending global poverty by denying cheap fossil energy to less developed countries?
    Fossil fuel supporters often argue that coal, oil and gas made the modern world and is vital to improving the lives of the world’s poorest citizens. But the report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded the exact opposite. It warned that global warming is set to inflict severe and irreversible impacts on people and that “limiting its effects is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication” and climate change impacts are projected “to prolong existing and create new poverty traps”. The challenge is to ensure poverty is ended by the large-scale deployment of clean technology. Investments need to be channelled towards rapid and equitable deployment of clean energy rather than being locked up in stranded fossil fuel assets. The presence of fossil fuel companies in many poorer countries actually harms the communities there. Fossil fuel companies' extractive processes displaces communities, contaminants their water, and increase flooding and air pollution: E.g. In South Kalimantan, local communities fought against a coal company called PT Mantimin Coal Mining (MCM) to save Meratus Mountains for decades; they were concerned that turning the area into a mine would cut off or contaminate water sources while removing the natural water catchment area and increasing the risk of flooding. The Supreme Court ruled that the coal company would not be able to mine coal in that area because they did not have an environmental permit
  • Does divestment mean we have to stop using all fossil fuels or if we use fossil fuels everyday, isn't divestment hypocritical?"
    Divestment does not mean that we have to get off the energy grid overnight. It only says that institutions should no longer be complicit in and profit from the continued burning of fossil fuels. The movement is arguing that the burning of fossil fuels at increasing rates is driving global warming. Even if fossil fuel burning continues, the point is to reverse today’s upward trend of ever more carbon emissions into a downward trend of ever less carbon emissions. Divestment’s most immediate impact will be felt through political means, not financial, and definitely not through our energy grid. The group which is leading the divestment campaign globally calls for investors to commit to selling off their fossil fuel investments over five years. This is a similar approach that we are taking in our demands, as we are calling on our universities to fully divest all financial holdings from fossil fuels, not immediately, but by 2030 (that’s about 8 years). Our hope is that our universities do not just end at divestment. A “divest-invest” strategy moves money into the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors which have already begun driving the transition to a low-carbon world. Many universities are also looking into ways to decarbonise their campuses and operations. Divestment is consistent with these aims. By removing positive associations with fossil fuels in the public’s mind, divestment is not only not hypocritical, but is consistent with society-wide efforts to reduce demand for fossil fuel products and ramp up infrastructure and usage of clean alternatives.
  • What should be immediate next steps for an institution serious about divesting?
    A common first step is to freeze any new fossil fuel investments while conducting a review of existing investment, which can often take several months. An institution can remove its direct investments in these companies, either with immediate effect or by phasing them out gradually over a set time frame. Indirect investments are comparatively difficult to remove because they are in commingled funds which are a blend of assets from different accounts. The school investment offices can choose to tell their fund managers to screen for fossil fuels (i.e. actively exclude fossil fuels from where they put money in). Fossil fuel screens are one of the most requested screens, and it’s possible to screen out different levels of companies. Independent fund managers can certainly do this, at perhaps higher fees. Investors can engage with managers or consultants about carbon risk, which means they commit to phasing out carbon emissions from all the companies in their portfolios rather than exclusively targeting those in fossil fuels, The UN has also supported a coalition of investors taking this approach, called the Portfolio Decarbonisation Coalition. or switch to managers or consultants who are able and willing to create fossil free accounts. A five year time-frame is common.
  • Doesn’t a board have a fiduciary responsibility to deliver the best dollar outcome for an institution?
    There’s a misunderstanding of “fiduciary” in this context. The definition of fiduciary is someone who puts the interests of the client in front of all other interests, including their own. Our university’s fiduciary duty would be to do what’s best for the University. The University has competing priorities; the endowment is only one of them. We obviously need to consider what divestment’s impact would be to the endowment. We have to weigh which is more important, and which of our priorities should take precedence. If the conclusion is that it would be devastating, then as laudable as the goal is, we might have to say it would be imprudent, but if we conclude that the costs would be quite manageable and the benefits substantial (catalysing institutional momentum for climate action, driving the national and regional discourse and momentum for an energy transition, setting our universities up as climate leaders rather than laggards, aligning of values, etc.) then that’s a clear sign to proceed. From report: That said, we would also like to note that the profitability of the fossil fuel industry has become much more volatile—even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic—and fossil fuel investments have become increasingly recognised as “stranded assets”. Meanwhile, researchers have found that in the last decade, investments in publicly-listed renewable energy companies have been consistently outperforming fossil fuel ones worldwide, and their returns have also been found to be less volatile.
  • Why don’t we let divestment happen naturally when the costs of capital changes?
    We don’t have the time to let things happen on their own accord - urgency of the climate emergency The IPCC report warns that if the world warms beyond another 1.5 degrees celsius (the tipping point), irreversible climate impacts will occur. It predicts that if immediate action is not taken, we might reach this point in the next decade. The World Meteorological Organisation projects we have a 40% chance of reaching that point by 2026, and that the world is currently on track for 3 degrees of warming. Even the International Energy Administration, which has been a proponent of fossil fuels, charted a pathway to remaining within 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming which requires companies to immediately begin to taper off prospecting for new fossil fuels and investment in renewable energy on an unprecedented scale. Also there is the issue of market failure; markets don’t account accurately for risk, and have been, and are currently failing to account sufficiently for climate risk (Stern, 2007) and “climate risk is investment risk” (Fink, 2020). The cost of capital divestment will thus be untimely, responding too slow, burdening investors with unnecessary risk. We need to be proactively making financially sound and environmentally/socially responsible investment decisions (UNPRI, n.d.).
  • Why not advocate for ESG investment instead?
    It is a possibility, and advocating for divestment & greater ESG investments are not mutually exclusive. BUT while ESG investing is less polarising, there is no standard definition and there are a lot of loopholes as to what ESG investing means (e.g. some allow investing in fossil fuels to be considered ESG too). Divesting takes a more clear and stringent standard and it follows the principle of "divest from the past to invest in the future”. With ESG investing we must have transparency & defined metrics, so institutions or universities don’t hide behind an ESG smokescreen to carry on the status quo without any change. We are pushing for divestment as opposed to ESG investment because it is much clearer and more precise in its demands to move away from being complicit in the factors driving global warming. By following the principle of reduction, we are able to more immediately attenuate the root causes of global warming. We are looking for tangible change that will transform the environmental landscape in an observable and measurable manner and it is in this regard (careful not to make it sound like disrespect) that we believe divestment may be more foolproof.
  • What about students who rely on scholarships, prizes, or other forms of sponsorship given by FF companies? Aren’t we depriving them of their education, opportunities, etc.?"
    The report has put forward some suggestions with regards to gradually transitioning away from the financial help that the fossil fuel industries give. Importantly, these demands are not immediate, but rather we demand that universities begin to explore ways to transition in a phased out and gradual process. These stages of this transition are outlined by the asks under the section “Academia” of the report: First, remove name branding from scholarships and prizes for those whose sponsorships have been already guaranteed in trusts To create a more neutral image of the funding that goes into academic activities. This removes the companies’ ability to promote themselves on universities’ grounds, as well as any silencing effect these companies might have on students who benefit from these scholarships. We do recognise that fossil fuel companies may become unwilling to sponsor such academic rewards if they are not named as sponsors. Hence, we put forward this suggestion as a compromise in the short-term while the school looks for better corporate partners. Second, propose future plans to search for alternative modes of funding What we want is to replace professional and monetary opportunities for our institutions from more ethical industries. Lastly, cease receiving research funding from fossil fuel companies and secure alternative funding. We have stressed the importance for the transition to be centered on equity and inclusivity. In the proposed overall timeline, we have also suggested that students from a low-income background should be consulted in the process and financial support should be given to ensure that they are not adversely affected in the transition. Our response to them would be what we’ve set out in our calls to action. We don’t want our fellow students who are scholarship recipients to lose their funding. We all want the same thing, to make the most of our educational opportunities. Hence we’re calling for a phased approach and for the scholarship funding to be replaced, not removed.
  • How will students be impacted when universities stop featuring fossil fuel companies on their job search portal?
    We had the same questions, so we interviewed a few Chemical Engineering graduates from NTU, who are amongst the demographics of students most affected by what we are calling for. They shared that many petrochemical plants have actually stopped hiring Chemical Engineering students in 2020. Top students were also unable to secure placements in Exxon-Mobil and Shell. Hence, most Chemical Engineering graduates headed over to the other industries in 2020. Not only does this signal that the petrochemical industry is a sunset industry, it also demonstrates that the fossil fuel industry is not the sole path that graduates of this field can go. The skills they acquired in their studies can be transferable to other industries that are consistent with a livable and sustainable post carbon future, including in food technologies, semiconductors, environmental technologies and services, and pharmaceuticals. In the past year, three oil majors - Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron have retrenched hundreds of workers: 300 from ExxonMobil, and 500 from Shell, and at least 10% from Chevron. This undeniably underlines the fact that fossil fuels are a sunset and declining industry, and that fresh graduates would stand a higher chance of securing a stable job somewhere else. There also needs to be a transition in education, as universities have a role in informing the trajectories of certain fields of study. University education should be intentionally structured for a post-carbon future We don’t want our fields of study to still be maintaining a large avenue of professional development to a sunset industry. There is intentionality in how universities structure their curriculums to meet social needs, and we must be intentional about structuring our curriculum and university education for a post-carbon future too. If we want to be ahead of the curve, regionally, and globally, this is something that our country and our universities must be cognisant and acknowledging of. It’s not inherently a bad thing that these fields of study are being affected as society changes (and this has happened before in other industries as our society developed in the past), but it is about what we do about it, and how we include people from these fields in the post-carbon transition that is most important. To give an example: last year (July 2021), the University of Calgary dropped its undergraduate programme in oil and gas engineering, recognising a transition in the energy sector, including growth of renewables, government commitments to slash emissions, and uncertainty about long-term demand for fossil fuels.
  • What about research funded by fossil fuel companies? What if these companies are funding research in post-carbon technologies such as renewables, etc.?"
    Again, our demands are to secure alternative fundings to replace the current research funding that we have, rather than to immediately cut off such sources of funding that could very well be funding important work such as in renewable technologies. We don’t want our universities to be inadvertent victims to these industries, pulled into their PR campaigns and having our legitimacies compromised as a result. We must be aware of whether these companies are genuine in funding such research, or merely funding these as PR stunts. We can look at whether the company is actively seeking a larger transition that is taking place within its own businesses and operations, beyond these small marginal initiatives that they participate in and fund
  • Shouldn’t we be assessing these companies based on their current impacts and actions?
    We can look at the impacts these companies have already had. Fossil fuel use has already locked us into about 1C of warming; the IPCC report reveals that we will most likely reach the 1.5C tipping point in the 2030s if drastic changes are not made. The report places the blame for climate inaction squarely on these companies and their efforts to mislead the public and promote contrarian science. We have to arrest the impact by transitioning away from fossil fuels as fast as we can The most vulnerable populations will feel the worst effects of climate change e.g. those who cannot afford air conditioned homes in the rising temperatures, communities that live near water bodies and whose homes are at risk of flooding If we want to look at what the companies are doing now, we have to be very specific and clear, for example a percentage of their revenue to be reinvested into renewable energy technologies. We need to have ambitious and meaningful thresholds for impacts that make sense for climate change and make sense for society, with specific time bound milestones, thresholds, and commitments that are clearly being met.
  • Fossil fuel companies should be partners rather than adversaries in the energy transition; these companies have the necessary knowledge, infrastructure, and resources to help a transition towards a post-carbon future. Shouldn’t we invest in them but on the condition that they use that money for transition-related work?"
    Philosophically we agree that fossil fuel companies should be partners because they have resources and technology that can get us back on track, but we can only work with them if they are actors we can trust, and if they have demonstrated a serious commitment to tackling climate change. To do this, we should look at the facts and numbers and their track record, to determine whether fossil fuel companies are serious about contributing to the energy transition. Fossil fuel companies spend a very small percentage of their budgets on alternative energy research. The industry spends 99 percent of its capital expenditures of over $100 billion per year to expand their fossil fuel reserves, despite the fact that current reserves are already more than enough to exceed the 1.5°C target. A 2020 report assessed oil companies’ climate plans as mostly “grossly insufficient”. Oil companies continue to insist that they will expand fossil fuel capacity. Shell is participating in an oil and gas exploration project near Shetland, Scotland. Total is working on securing financial support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) which will deliver oil extracted by Total and China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) from Uganda to international markets. Oil companies are also continuing to fund lobbying and ads that contribute to delaying climate action. Shell’s largest political lobbying donation in 2020 was US$10 million to the American Petroleum Institute (API), whose chief executive recently pledged to resist a draft of US President Joe Biden’s environmental measures, including proposals to fund new electric vehicle charging points in the US. There is a lot of evidence that oil companies are not operating in good faith. The London Science Museum was found to have signed a gagging clause in its sponsorship agreement with Shell, agreeing not to say anything critical about the company. Two Exxon lobbyists admitted on record in June, detailing the strategies, philosophies and methods Exxon has till this day, to undermine climate action, Hence, the picture is very clear. The reality is that we can try to work with them, but they are not going to hold up their side of the bargain, and they no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt, not after 40-50 years of deception and undermining climate action. If we are serious about climate action, the only alternative is to cut them off until they can demonstrate that they are serious too.
  • What about all the energy transition efforts and steps taken by FF companies? In Singapore, Shell in November 2020 said it would repurpose its core business and halve its crude processing capacity in P. Bukom in its journey towards a low-carbon future."
    (Source in question) The reduced oil production planned for P. Bukom is indeed a good step. The transition must be just. We hope that Shell is going to fulfil their social responsibility to invest in retraining and reskilling for the workers who have contributed to the company’s financial success over the years. These workers should not be left to fend for themselves without support. Additionally, we cannot be judging a transnational company based on just their local or regional efforts and commitments. For example, on a global level, Shell still plans to increase fossil fuel production, mainly in fossil gas, which means their carbon emissions will still exceed Paris targets. Shell’s climate plans are expressed in terms of carbon intensity targets, rather than absolute reductions in emissions which is what’s needed to meet 1.5°C targets. The CEO said the company would stick with these plans to increase carbon emissions despite the recent Dutch court ruling calling for them to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell is also still participating in new oil and gas projects, such as the exploration project near Shetland, Scotland. Throughout the past few years, “the company has been working on streamlining and simplifying its offshore oil platform construction and operations so it can continue drilling profitably even when oil prices vary widely…. In general, the company has been producing more offshore oil each year, records show. In 2018, it drilled 122.3 million barrels.” (Source) Many oil companies are also pivoting to petrochemicals and plastics to replace expected lost revenue from declining oil demand. However, the problem is that current plastics demand is a fraction of their total revenue. Plastics production only uses 350mt of oil annually, versus 1,000mt of oil consumption. To replace lost revenue from declining oil demand and justify growth in production, oil companies have been trying to push up plastics demand. Part of this strategy is touting the recyclability of plastics to assuage public concerns over the wasteful and pollutive plastics industry. However, the reality is that a very small percentage of plastics are ever recycled. In addition, high-tech recycling projects have run into teething problems.
  • We need the petrochemical industry for economic growth and the stuff we manufacture; shouldn’t we be grateful for the wealth the petrochemical industry has brought?
    As our scientific knowledge and priorities evolve, humanity is equipped to steer ourselves towards a fossil-free, regenerative future. We know better now and have the tools to provide decent lives for all without environmental degradation. We’re not calling for scientific knowledge and advancements of the past to be discarded, but to be used to ensure we have a habitable earth. This is not the first time Singapore has had to restructure our economy. We fully believe that Singapore has the ability to meet the challenge of seeking alternatives to fossil fuels and petrochemicals. Global trends already indicate that fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Demand for petrochems is on a downward trend. We can’t afford to be left behind without an alternative for our economic future.
  • Does divestment work in Asia?
    Although the fossil fuel divestment movement is more prominent in the US, UK, and other western countries, there are also good examples of fossil fuel divestment in an Asian context. In 2019, the National Taiwan University announced that it would divest its endowment funds from high-polluting industries by the end of 2020. It involves: The withdrawal of funds from high carbon-emitting industries. The establishment of an investment assessment mechanism to take into account a company's corporate social responsibility and performance regarding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues Adherence to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment. Also, Temasek Holdings is looking to decarbonise its investments over time; it’s not that foreign a concept.
  • Are there examples of political lobbying by fossil fuel companies in Singapore, like what you mentioned in other countries?"
    In Singapore, the government and fossil fuel companies already have a very close relationship. Based on IMF estimates [under “Access country database”], Singapore’s subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amounted to US$7.85 billion in 2015 when negative externalities are taken into account. The government has consistently signalled its support for fossil fuel companies, for example: In a 2014 speech, PM Lee reassured energy and petrochemicals companies that “the Singapore Government stands fully behind them and will continue to help them to succeed,” and characterised ExxonMobil’s 120 years in Singapore as a “special kind of wedding anniversary.” As recent as March 2020, SM Teo Chee Hean attended a virtual foundation laying ceremony for an ExxonMobil expansion project and said that “The Government remains committed to working with our energy and chemicals sector to remain competitive in the long term,” alluding to investment of public monies in R&D into the sector. Senior executives from ExxonMobil and Trafigura were on the Emerging Stronger Task Force which was to provide recommendations for future shifts in Singapore’s economy needed to recover from Covid-19. Carbon intensive industries like aviation, shipping and finance were also represented. Given this, how are we going to imagine a fossil-free future? The final recommendations mentioned carbon trading, which has been shown to be ineffective in reducing carbon emissions, but did not address the need for Singapore to transition away from the fossil fuel industry in keeping with climate targets. [Note: In general, we are not able to conclude on the level of political lobbying that takes place in Singapore due to the lack of transparency and investigative reporting around such issues, but the fact remains that fossil fuel companies receive a huge amount of government support.]
  • Why Keppel?
    While Keppel operates in many other sectors outside of the fossil fuel industry, our research has revealed clear and deep links to the industry, which we detailed in our report. Keppel Corporation is a Singaporean conglomerate that has four different divisions: Offshore & Marine, Property, Infrastructure, and Investments. The most relevant division for our context is Keppel Offshore and Marine (O&M), which is a worldwide leader in offshore rig design (drilling sites for fossil fuel exploration, extraction and procession), construction and repair, ship repair and conversion, and specialised shipbuilding. This means that its profitability is directly enabled by the continued exploration and extraction of oil and gas reserves. Since the initial research and drafting of this section on Keppel Corporation, we have come to learn of Keppel O&M’s “Vision 2030”, a plan that centres the transition towards “cleaner fuels”, namely natural gas and renewables, as one of four focus areas. In February 2021, Keppel O&M announced its decision to undergo a structural transformation that may eventually lead to its exit from the offshore rig building business. A few months later, in June 2021, Keppel signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sembcorp Marine to discuss opportunities to “accelerate [the] pivot to the energy transition”, following a prolonged downturn of the oil and gas industry. We find these developments to be very promising, as they seem to align well with Keppel’s “Vision 2030” plan. However, given that these announcements are very recent, it remains to be seen whether Keppel’s commitment to an energy transition will materialise. Hence, we will continue to include Keppel in our discussion, but remain open to reconsidering Keppel’s role as a contributor to the climate crisis based on their actions following these announcements.
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