Today, the New York State pension fund, valued at over $226 billion (USD) and its sole trustee, the New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, announced a bold climate action and divestment plan. It came about after years of campaigning by the incredible DivestNY coalition, which 350.org is part of.
The Comptroller announced that the Fund will divest from the riskiest oil and gas companies within 4 years and decarbonize its entire portfolio by 2040.
New York State’s pension fund is the biggest in the world to take this type of comprehensive climate action including divestment. Ever.
They are backing this commitment up with rigorous reporting, hiring new staff and by taking a systematic approach to review and assessing each fossil fuel company they hold against standards to determine if they’ve got a plan to transition out of fossil fuel production and are aligned with the Paris Climate Accord. Any that are not – and that’s likely to most of them – the Fund will divest from. All by 2025. That’s big.
Let me tell you how we got here.
Our People-Powered Campaign
The DivestNY campaign was launched shortly after Superstorm Sandy struck New York, devastating communities and causing over $70 billion in damages. The climate fueled disaster energized people to stand up and launch the divestment campaign to divest state and city money in New York out of the companies most responsible for the climate crisis – coal, oil and gas including the likes of Exxon.
And we knew that if we succeeded at getting the iconic pension funds of New York – valued at over $500 billion – to divest, the impact would be global. So we set out to build out a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition in New York State that refused to give up.
Our coalition pulled off our first victory in 2018, when New York City announced their commitment to divest the city pension funds from fossil fuels within five years. Mayor Bill De Blasio and Comptroller Stringer stood shoulder to shoulder with activists, pension board trustees and workers to announce that initiative. And to top it off – a lawsuit against Big Oil for climate related damages. That was big moment that sent ripples throughout the financial and fossil fuel sectors. From there, we took that energy and helped stop the Williams fracked gas pipeline, with the awesome Stop the Williams Pipeline coalition, and got a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure in the city. City divestment campaigns across the country got a boost of energy and hope.
We had the momentum and the organizing power to get New York City to divest, so we set our sights on winning an even bigger target: the New York State pension fund.
Through focused on-the-ground organizing and diligent campaigning over the course of years with the incredibly smart groups in the DivestNY coalition, we brought people together to organize, protest, march, lobby, and ultimately create a movement that matches the scale of the climate crisis. You can read the campaign highlights timeline here.
It took flexibility. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we shifted into virtual campaigning and video conference advocacy and lobbying to push this campaign over the finish line. Our team persevered – youth joining with pensioners to lobby legislators to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act and urge Comptroller to act. United we were unstoppable.
Dismantling the Fossil-Fuel Industry
Today’s victory will send shockwaves through the entire fossil fuel industry. Because of the pension fund’s size and stature, the effects of this win will be felt by other funds, banks and financial institutions around the globe.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s announcement sets a very high bar and challenges institutions and governments everywhere to rapidly shift resources and money away from fossil fuel laggards and into climate solutions and our communities. And this is especially important as we recognize the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Accord next week and countdown to the next COP in Scotland next year.
Our movement has always been clear about the connection between fossil fuel companies and the financial institutions who bankroll them. Ten years ago, very few people were connecting the dots between the financial sector and the fossil fuel industry. Together, we brought this message to the mainstream media, and today, we made it clear that our movement has the organizing power to win.
If you’d like to learn more about the Comptroller’s plan, check out this background document.
Please take a moment to thank the Comptroller for leading the way and taking real climate action.