As governments meet in Poland for another round of climate talks, a major milestone was reached on Thursday, December 13, 2018 in the worldwide movement to divest from the fossil fuel companies driving the climate crisis, with the announcement that over 1000 institutions with managed investments worth almost $8 trillion (€7 trillion) have committed to divest.
The 1000th institution to divest was the Caisse des dépôts et consignations (CDC), which manages France’s public sector pensions, savings, and investments worth €173 billion ($196 billion). It recently announced that from 2019 it will no longer invest in companies that make more than 10% of their business from coal – this implies that the top 200 companies in the coal-industry are now effectively blacklisted.
The latest commitments propelling the campaign to over 1000 institutions include: AG2R la mondiale ($114 billion), Australian Vision Super Fund ($9 billion) and Brandeis University ($997 million).
Launching a report detailing the history of the “divestment” movement and highlighting the 1000th divestment commitment at the UN Climate Summit in Katowice, May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, said: “When this movement started in 2012, we aimed to catalyse a truly global shift in public attitudes to the fossil fuel industry, and people’s willingness to challenge the institutions that financially support it. While diplomats at the UN climate talks are having a hard time making progress, our movement has changed how society perceives the role of fossil fuel corporations and is actively keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”
The report details that since 2012 the number of institutions commiting to fossil fuel divestment has increased rapidly, as has the total number of dollars of those who commited to sell their fossil fuel investments.
Boeve added: “The reach and impact of this global movement is huge — major institutions with almost $8 trillion in assets have commited to divest from the likes of Exxon and Shell. The momentum has been driven by a people-powered grassroots movement – it’s ordinary people pushing their local institutions to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry – the industry most responsible for the current climate crisis.”
Nico Haeringer, an organiser who supports divestment groups globally at 350.org, said: “Getting our public institutions to go fossil free is something that we can all do. Whether it is our university, our municipal government, or our pension fund we can turn off the money tap to polluting industries and we can force them to make better choices like investing in local renewable energy. It’s something that we see happening everywhere, with a momentum all of its own.”
- The exponential rate of growth in the number of institutions and total funds divested from fossil fuels companies;
- The global breakdown of divestments including numerous commitments on every continent;
- The sectoral breakdown of divestment actions, which demonstrates the moral leadership of the faith sector on the issue of divestment;
- Politically significant commitments such as those of the sovereign wealth funds of Ireland, Norway and city divestments of Cape Town and New York.
The first fossil fuel divestment commitment made since the movement was launched was made by Unity College (Maine) in the United States in 2012.
On the momentum for divestment since 2013, Nico Haeringe said: “This is a moral movement as well as a financial one. Just five years ago we had 181 divestment commitments and $50 billion shifted away from polluting industries and today we’re over 1,000 and approaching $8 trillion dollars.
“Despite the enormous progress and the spike of divestment commitments, we need hundreds more to move their money out of dangerous fossil fuels. Massive pension funds like New York State, to moral authorities like the Vatican, to iconic institutions like the Nobel Foundation, to premiere universities like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge, and US based insurance giants AIG, and Berkshire Hathaway. The tide is turning and the time to divest is now.”
On the theory of change of the movement, Boeve said: “The fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful political actors in the history of the world. The tentacles of this industry reach into the offices of the powerful, including at this UN Summit where they’ve been welcomed on the red carpet. The divestment movement gives every person the opportunity to join the dots and make clear that climate change is not ‘just happening’ – it’s being actively fueled by corporations like Exxon and Shell and anyone who funds them.
“This movement started to send a clear message to the fossil fuel industry that we would not sit by while they profited by selling fuels that cause climate breakdown. It’s not just about the bottom-line, it’s also about their reputations in the public square. The scale of this movement shows that selling products that you know cause climate change is not acceptable, and nor is investing in them.”
On trends and opportunities in investment decisions relating to fossil fuels, Nico Haeringer said: “New people powered campaigns are starting almost daily to get local and prominent institutions to divest divest and also fund managers are increasingly making this decision of their own accord as it becomes clear that in 2018 an investment in fossil fuels is not ethical and is also risky financially.
“The next step in our campaigns will be to push this number past 2000 commitments and to actively call on these fund managers to invest in the just transition to 100% renewable energy for all.
“All financial analysis of changes in the sector show there are real limitations to simple shareholder engagement and we we are running out of time to change the course of these polluting behemoths. If extracting climate-change-causing fuels is the core business of a corporation then that’s not likely to change. The divestment strategy is the most forceful and impactful approach we have to signal a global standard that we cannot invest in or build any new fossil fuel projects.”
Speaking on a local divestment campaign Miriam Frank, Community Organiser of the Divestment campaign at Green Course, said: “Divesting the Hebrew University’s investments from fossil fuels contributes to weakening the legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry, by calling them out for the harm they cause to our planet and the exploitation of people. Israel is not doing enough in the fight against the Climate Crisis, even though recent studies show that the Middle East is a high-risk area and will be severely affected by the costs of climate change, that’s why in Green Course we are taking matters into our own hands.”