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As 350.org director May Boeve acknowledged during her announcement on Wednesday, the movement has been largely fueled by campaigners and student activists, some of whom took part in a demonstration outside the summit in Paris. (Photo: Emma Cassidy/ Survival Media Agency)

Divestment Surges as Endowments Worth $3.4 Trillion Pull Funds From Fossil Fuels

'It is now conventional wisdom the world over,' declared Bill McKibben, who launched the campaign in July 2012

Lauren McCauley

The "writing is on the wall" for the fossil fuel sector as more than 500 cities, banks, universities, and museums across the globe, representing over $3.4 trillion in total assets, have now pledged to pull their funds from polluting industries.

"A growing number of investors representing a growing amount of capital do not want to be associated with this industry any longer," declared May Boeve, executive director of the climate campaign organization 350.org, speaking at an event Wednesday at the United Nations COP21 climate summit in Paris.

She said that oil, gas, and coal are now considered "rogue" industries and these financial commitments "demonstrate that investors are taking climate risk very seriously."

Because of the varying degree of disclosure, it is unclear precisely how much has been divested from the industry, though Boeve explained that standard portfolios contain 3.7 percent of investments in fossil fuels.

In the just over three years since 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben proposed the campaign in his landmark July 2012 Rolling Stone article, fossil fuel divestment has surged. 

In the ten weeks leading up to the Paris summit, more than 100 institutions pledged either full or partial divestment from one or more of the fossil fuel industries. On Wednesday, 19 French cities including Lille, Bordeaux, Dijon, Saint-Denis, Rannes, and Ile-de-France joined the swelling ranks of cities worldwide who are shifting their capital away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. 

And on November 25, the French National Assembly took the first step towards formalizing the policy as law by adopting a resolution encouraging public investors, companies, and local authorities not to invest in fossil fuels anymore.

As 350.org explained in a press statement, the municipalities and institutions that have opted to divest are hoping their actions will "push governments to follow suit by shifting public finance from fossil fuels to climate solutions." 

In October, California—the world's seventh largest economy—signed a law requiring the state's two largest pension systems, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), to divest from any company whose primary profits are related to the mining or use of thermal coal.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who first introduced the California measure, told Democracy Now on Wednesday that his state is providing a model for the country, and the world.

"What we have done is de-linked and de-coupled carbon from our GDP," he said. "We have grown our economy, added jobs, put people to work," while simultaneously reducing the state's carbon emissions output. "It is important we align our policies with our values," he added.

With California facing its fifth year of historic drought and spending billions to combat devastating wildfires, the state government is not going to "wait for Washington to act," he said.

And McKibben, also speaking with Democracy Now in Paris, explained that with the growing list of international institutions—including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the London School of Economics—now recognizing that most reserve oil, gas, and coal must stay in the ground to keep global warming beneath the dangerous 2°C threshold, "those fossil fuel companies are going to be worth a lot less."

"It is now conventional wisdom the world over," he added. 


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