Ireland becomes first country in world to pull money from fossil fuels

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Ireland has voted to become the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuels.

The landmark move means public funds will be withdrawn from oil and gas companies in an effort to meet Ireland’s climate change commitments, as embodied in the Paris agreement.

Having made it through the lower house of the Irish parliament, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill will probably be brought into force after the summer recess.

Though the bill still requires the approval of the parliament’s upper house, cross-party and government support mean it is likely to pass through quickly.

First introduced by independent MP Thomas Pringle in 2016, the bill has since been backed by all opposition parties.

Mr Pringle hopes the historic move will help improve the nation’s dismal record on tackling climate change, which has seen it slip way behind other European nations in hitting greenhouse gas emissions targets.

“For a long time we have taken this attitude that we are a very small country and we don’t really matter,” Mr Pringle told The Independent.

“But the Irish people haven’t felt that way, and a lot of members of parliament haven’t felt that way as well.

“Because the parliament is in a stronger position now, we can reflect the voice of the people more at parliamentary level, and the government has to take note.”

Mr Pringle says he is delighted by the support his bill had received, and describes it as a “testament to cross party cooperation” and “a victory for the international fossil fuel divestment movement”.

Taking inspiration from universities and cities around the world that have withdrawn financial support from the fossil fuel industry, Mr Pringle began working on the idea after meeting Irish international development charity Trocaire.

The passing of the bill will compel the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to sell off its fossil fuel investments, which stand at more than €300m (£265m) across 150 companies worldwide.

Mr Pringle says the withdrawal of this money will not only remove funds from some of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, it will act as a gesture of Ireland’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Eamonn Meehan, executive director of Trocaire, agrees the bill makes a “powerful statement” that would serve to improve the nation’s reputation as a “climate laggard”.

“Just last month Ireland was ranked the second worst European country for climate action, so the passing of this bill is good news, but has to mark a significant change of pace on the issue,” he says.

Ireland is set to achieve only a 1 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, and the government has come under fire for failing to curb agricultural emissions in particular.

“Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry,” says Gerry Liston, legal officer with the Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill.

“Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”

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