Global Divestment Movement 'Catches Fire' with Funds Worth $2.6 Trillion Shifting Assets

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Global Divestment Movement 'Catches Fire' with Funds Worth $2.6 Trillion Shifting Assets

Demand for fossil-free investment products is increasing as scores of individual and institutional investors move their money away from the dirty energy system driving the climate crisis

(Photograph: Les Stone/Corbis/with overlay)

The number of institutions, individuals, and various funds divesting from the fossil fuel industry and invest in renewable energy and climate solutions has exploded, growing 50-fold in just one year and representing $2.6 trillion in assets, according to a new analysis released Tuesday.

"This movement has struck a chord with people across the world who care about climate change, and convinced some of the largest and most influential institutions in the world to begin pulling their money out of climate destruction." 
—May Boeve, 350.org

Since the campaign began in earnest less than three years ago, the report shows, more than 400 institutions and over 2,000 individuals have pledged to divest from companies that derive profits from coal, oil, or gas.

Presented just months ahead UN climate talks in Paris and conducted by financial researchers at Arabella Advisors on behalf of the 'Divest-Invest' campaign—an effort driven by a coalition of climate action and public advocacy groups—the findings of the analysis (pdf) reveal enormous strides over a relatively brief period for the idea of transitioning investments as part of the fight against human-driven global warming.

"If these numbers tell us anything, it’s that the divestment movement is catching fire," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, one of the groups most responsible for the international divestment push. "Since starting on the campuses of a few colleges in the U.S., this movement has struck a chord with people across the world who care about climate change, and convinced some of the largest and most influential institutions in the world to begin pulling their money out of climate destruction. That makes me hopeful for our future, and it’s sending a clear message to world leaders as they head into Paris: It’s time for them to follow suit, and divest our governments from fossil fuel companies too."

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Thomas Van Dyck, managing director of the SRI Wealth Management Group, said the new level of consciousness among individuals and institutional investors is palpable. He said the findings of the Arabella report "underscores what I see every day as a financial advisor—that the demand for fossil-free investment products is increasing." But it's not just altruism, Van Dyck added, as the shift is also pragmatic for those concerned about what both scientific and economic studies are saying about the future of the fossil fuel market. "More and more investors are reducing their carbon risk today and diversifying their portfolios with the goal to harness the upside in the sustainable clean growth industries of the future," he said.

"Climate change hits the poor first and worst. It is a racial and economic justice issue that must be addressed with solutions like the Divest-Invest movement to empower these communities, eliminate health disparities and drive the shift to a clean energy economy."
—Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., Hip Hop Caucus

Though it may be only wealthier individuals who are in a position to hold such investment, a majority of the funds divested so far, the report makes clear, come from shared funds representing pensions, religious organizations, or school endowments. And as explained by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. of the Hip-Hop Caucus, a social justice group representing the concerns of minority and marginalized communities, while not everyone is in the same financial position to make such choices, all people will benefit as this shift away from dirty fossil fuels continues.

"This shift in investment flows is especially critical for underserved communities and people living in poverty, who are disproportionately affected by the negative impacts of climate change," he said. "Climate change hits the poor first and worst. It is a racial and economic justice issue that must be addressed with solutions like the Divest-Invest movement to empower these communities, eliminate health disparities and drive the shift to a clean energy economy."

Key findings and trends covered in the report show:

  • Pledges have spread to sectors not traditionally associated with divestment, including pension funds and private companies. In 2014, foundations, universities, faith-based organizations, NGOs, and other mission-driven organizations led the movement. Today, large pension funds and private-sector actors such as insurance companies hold over 95 percent of the total combined assets of those committed to divest.
  • Climate risk to investment portfolios is helping drive the exponential growth of divestment. Reports by Citigroup analysts, HSBC, Mercer, the International Energy Agency, Bank of England, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and others have offered evidence of a significant, quantifiable risk to portfolios exposed to fossil fuel assets in a carbon constrained world. The leaders of several of the largest institutions to divest in the past year have cited climate risk to investment portfolios as a key factor in their decisions.
  • While historically focused in the United States, the divestment movement now spans the globe. In 2014, 78 percent of divesting institutions were US-based. Today, 57 percent are US-based. Institutions that have chosen to divest represent more than 646 million individuals around the world.
  • Thanks to increasing commitments to invest and a proliferation of fossil free products, more capital is flowing toward climate solutions. Globally, investment in clean energy reached $310 billion in 2014. Among those pledging to divest, many are also committing to invest in climate solutions: those institutions and individuals that have pledged to both divest and invest in clean energy collectively hold $785 billion in assets.

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