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'Undeniable Victory': Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels

"Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet," says Bill McKibben

This photo from a March 27, 2014 divestment rally illustrates the years-long battle climate activists have waged—and shows that their efforts have paid off.  (Photo: M. Stan Reaves/flickr/cc)

Climate activists claimed "an undeniable victory" on Tuesday after New York City and New York State officials called for city and state pension funds to halt investments in fossil fuels.

"The dam has broken," said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. "After years of great activism, New York has taken a massive step towards divesting from fossil fuels. Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It's a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels."

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said in a statement that his office "will bring a proposal to the trustees of the NYC pension funds in the coming weeks to examine ways to de-carbonize the portfolios, including the feasibility of ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy."

Assets in the New York City Retirement Systems total nearly $190 billion, and activists said last month those investments include $3 billion in oil, gas, and pipeline companies.

Separately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan for "a de-carbonization roadmap" for the New York State Common Retirement Funds, and called for an end to "new investments in entities with significant fossil fuel-related activities" and instead a dedication of "a meaningful portion of the Fund's portfolio to investments that directly promote clean energy—which makes economic and environmental sense."

Holding over $200 billion in retirement assets—including $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone—the state retirement fund is the third largest public pension system in the nation. Cuomo's statement also notes that the fund "listed holdings in more than 50 oil and gas companies that have been identified as among the 100 most carbon-intensive in the world." 

"This victory is a direct result of people power and years-long pressure for New York to divest from fossil fuel companies causing climate change."
—Betámia Coronel, 350.org
Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger praised the move, saying the "announcement sends an important message that it is no longer acceptable to profit from a business model that perpetuates the destruction of our climate." 

As groups who advocate for such divestment were quick to note, the announcements follow years of grassroots activism.

"This victory is a direct result of people power and years-long pressure for New York to divest from fossil fuel companies causing climate change," said Betámia Coronel, 350.org's U.S. reinvestment coordinator and coordinator of the #DivestNY coalition. She called it "an undeniable victory for the global divestment movement," and said that "New York's elected officials are finally recognizing the risk of pouring billions into the likes of ExxonMobil. We commend Comptroller Scott Stringer and Governor Andrew Cuomo for this powerful step in prioritizing the health and safety of New Yorkers."

"There is no time to waste," she added. "We will hold every elected official accountable in the fast and just transition to the fossil free world that truly puts our communities first."

The development was celebrated on Twitter, with social media users calling it "huge," a "big win," and a "victory."

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