Paris — The fossil fuel divestment campaign broke a new record today at the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris: more than 500 institutions representing over $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment, according to the international climate campaign 350.org
“The logic of the divestment movement is quite simple: if it’s wrong to cause climate change, it’s wrong to profit from climate change,” said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve at a press conference this afternoon. “The diversity of actors involved, such as faith groups, cities, universities show that the movement is wide and has injected itself into the life of different institutions which do not want to be associated with this industry.”
“The divestment movement has permanently changed the energy finance landscape. No responsible institution wants to be financially or morally implicated in yesterday’s fuels,” added 350.org founder Bill McKibben.
New announcements on Wednesday included the news that 20 French cities, including Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Dijon have all passed a motion to divest, and that the French National Assembly has passed a similar resolution. In just the last month, the German insurance giant Allianz made a commitment to dump its coal stocks ahead of COP21, major cities like Oslo, Munster, and Melbourne have endorsed divestment, and 9 UK universities have joined the campaign.
“This movement is rapidly growing, and it’s because of two things,” said Stephen Heintz, the President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the original oil fortunes which divested from fossil fuels last year. “There is a moral imperative to save the planet, and to do so we need to end the fossil-fuel era now. In addition to this making moral sense, it makes economic sense, because the fossil-fuel assets owned by those companies are risky assets, and they are assets that are losing value.”
“Now everybody is speaking about divestment in the foundation world. We can’t play our part and have money invested in fossil fuels,” said the French philanthropist Jacqueline Delia Bremond. Bremond announced that she would be divesting her foundation, the Ensemble Foundation, and her family’s fortune from fossil fuels.
The university commitments include the prestigious London School of Economics, which this November 26th dumped all of its direct holdings in fossil fuel stocks, and all of its direct and indirect holdings in coal and tar sands. Students are celebrating the victory, while still campaigning to push the school to go 100% fossil free.
“Students have been at the heart of divestment. They are aware that for a better future, we need to move away from fossil fuels,” said Noeli Audi-Dor, President of London School of Economics (LSE) Divest.
Wednesday’s announcement is another sign in the early days of the Paris Climate Summit that investors are reading the writing on the wall and dramatically shifting capital away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy. On Monday, Bill Gates and a group of investors announced the launch of a multi-billion dollar private sector coalition to accelerate clean energy innovation. Other voices, including many of the world’s most vulnerable countries, are demanding that the Paris agreement send a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels has come to an end and the dawn of renewables is irreversible.
“The fossil fuel industry is in panic mode. After COP21 I hope they will be even more scared,” said Pascal Canfin, the former Development Minister of France and Senior Advisor for International Climate Affairs at the World Resources Institute. “Every time you buy a share in the fossil fuels industry, you’re buying a share in a 7°C world.”
The institutions that have joined the fossil fuel divestment campaign hope that their actions can push governments to follow suit by shifting public finance from fossil fuels to climate solutions in order to keep global warming below 1.5°C or 2°C. Many are calling on governments to specifically make good on their promises to end fossil fuel subsidies and fulfill their climate finance commitments.
Subnational actors, like the State of California, are already taking action. Kevin De León, the President of the California State Senate, spoke at the COP21 divestment events on Wednesday. De León successfully passed a resolution to urge two of the world’s largest pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, which together represent nearly $500 billion in assets, to divest from thermal coal. The four largest coal companies in the United States have lost 95% of their value in the last four years.
“We have successfully delinked and decoupled G.D.P. from carbon,” Mr. de León said. “Our economy has simultaneously grown while we have reduced our carbon emissions.”
At a panel discussion in the afternoon, activists also spoke to the need for better protections against corporate influence at the UN Climate Talks, and the drive to get cultural institutions to cut their ties with fossil fuel companies.
“One of the most dynamic and creative wings of the divestment movement is the push to end oil sponsorship of museums, galleries and theatres,” said Jess Worth with ‘BP or Not BP?’ an activist group pushing the Tate Modern to cut ties with the oil company. “Expect to see an upsurge in stage invasions, creative occupations and disruptive performance art as this movement goes global after coming together at COP21.”
Worth and other activists will be organizing a demonstration at the Louvre on December 9th to urge the famous French museum to cut its ties with fossil fuel sponsors.
The Wednesday announcements are another sign that the divestment movement is picking up steam as the public turns against the fossil fuel industry and investors become increasingly concerned about climate risk. In September 2014, 181 institutions representing $50 billion in assets had made a divestment commitment. On September 21, during Climate Week in New York City, 350.org and Divest-Invest announced the number had jumped to 400 institutions representing $2.6 trillion under management, and launched a “Divest for Paris” initiative to garner new commitments ahead of COP21. In the intervening 10 weeks between then and today, more than 100 institutions made new divestment commitments.
The commitments vary in their exact language and some are only partial divestment commitments, or just apply to a particular fossil fuel, such as coal or tar sands. At many institutions on the list, activists are still pushing for more action. The top line number refers to the number of assets under management by the institutions that have made a commitment, not the amount of money directly removed from fossil fuels. The goal is to demonstrate that a growing number of significant institutions are either reducing their carbon risk, taking a moral stance on fossil fuels, increasing investments in climate solutions, or all of the above.
Some of the most notable new announcements since September 21, 2015 include:
- 19 French Cities have endorsed divestment ahead of COP21: 350.org will announce for the first time that they have secured commitments from 19 French cities, including Lille, Bordeaux, Dijon, Saint-Denis, Rannes, Ile-de-France, and others.
- The French parliament has endorsed divestment: On November 25th, the French National Assembly adopted a resolution encouraging public investors, companies (especially those in which the states owns shares) and local authorities not to invest in fossil fuels anymore. The resolution is the first step to formalizing the policy as law.
- Uppsala became the largest city in Sweden to endorse fossil fuel divestment.
- Münster became the first city in Germany to divest completely from fossil fuels.
- Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, committed to go fossil free ahead of COP21. In fact, Australia has seen a seven-fold growth in the divestment movement, from two councils divesting in 2014, to 14 divesting as of now. Together, these funds represent AUD $5.5 billion in assets under management.
- Oslo, the capital of Norway, announced that it will divest its $9 billion pension fund (€8 billion) from coal, oil and gas companies, becoming the first capital city in the world to ban investments in fossil fuels.
- Dutch pension fund PFZW announced it will divest from coal companies and reduce its investments in other fossil fuel companies. The fund has €161 billion of assets under management.
- London School of Economics, one of the preeminent economics schools in the world, dropped all its direct and indirect holdings of coal and tar sands, and all direct holdings of fossil fuel companies.
- Allianz, Europe’s largest insurance company, divested €630 million of their own capital investment portfolio from coal, and are reinvesting over €4 billion into wind energy over the next 6 months. This is one of the largest funds to make a commitment to divest from fossil fuels. Allianz tied their announcement to COP21, making the moral and economic case for investing in cleaner technologies
- APRA AMCOS, the biggest music industry organisation in the southern hemisphere announced that it is beginning the process of divesting from all fossil fuels. APRA AMCOS distributed over $250 million in royalties to its 87,000 songwriter and composer members last year, making it a large cultural force for divestment.
- London Science Museum announced plans to dump Shell Oil as a sponsor, amidst controversy and public pressure.
- In addition to the London School of Economics 5 Universities from the UK took action: Oxford Brookes University, University of the Arts London, University of Surrey and University of Sheffield divested from all fossil fuel companies; Wolfson College (Oxford university) divested from coal and tar sands. Fund manager CCLA, which manages investments for Birmingham City University, Cranfiled University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Portsmouth, University of Westminster excluded coal and tar sands from its investments.
- The first church in Germany, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, managing €1.8 billion, committed to drop investments in coal, oil and gas too.
- Two weeks ago, renowned economists Thomas Piketty and Tim Jackson wrote a letter in The Guardian, calling on investors to divest from fossil fuel ahead for the COP21.