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'People Power Is Winning': Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Celebrates $11 Trillion Milestone

"We would not have smashed our divestment targets without the thousands of local groups who have pressured their representatives to pull out of fossil fuels."

Divestment demonstration

Climate campaigners in Vietnam joined a global mobilization for divestment from fossil fuels in 2017. (Photo: 350.org/Flickr/cc)

Ahead of an historic summit in Cape Town this week and the global climate strike planned for Sept. 20, the environmental group 350.org announced Monday that the international movement demanding divestment from fossil fuels and investment in clean energy had secured commitments from more than 1,110 institutions with over $11 trillion in assets.

Campaigners with 350.org and the DivestInvest network marked the milestone with the release of a new report, $11T and Counting: New Goals for a Fossil-Free World (pdf), which details the explosive growth of the divestment movement.

"What began as a moral call to action by students is now a mainstream financial response to growing climate risk to portfolios, the people, and the planet," the report explains. "Assets committed to divestment have leapt from $52 billion in 2014 to more than $11 trillion today—a stunning increase of 22,000 percent."

"Institutions committed to divestment include sovereign wealth funds, banks, global asset managers and insurance companies, cities, pension funds, healthcare organizations, universities, faith groups, and foundations," according to the report. "The momentum has been driven by a people-powered grassroots movement, ordinary people on every continent pushing their local institutions to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry and for a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy."

In a joint statement Monday, report co-author Ahmed Mokgopo reiterated the vital role that local pressure has played in securing institutions' divestment commitments.

"These numbers are strong indicators that people power is winning," said Mokgopo, an Africa regional divestment campaigner at 350.org. "We would not have smashed our divestment targets without the thousands of local groups who have pressured their representatives to pull out of fossil fuels."

Mokgopo also expressed excitement about Financing the Future, a global divest-invest summit in Cape Town that kicks off Tuesday with more 300 delegates from 44 countries. "Working together at this summit, the first of its kind in the global south, we will identify the tools we need to change the choices made by financial institutions, and exchange resources that will help us align capital with climate goals," he said.

"The summit's location in Cape Town, a hotbed of divestment campaigning during the apartheid era, underscores the parallels between the movement for climate justice and ongoing campaigns for social, racial, and gender justice," the joint statement said. With the event, organizers aim to build power among divestment campaigers worldwide with a particular focus on the 850 million people who currently lack access to electricity.

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Mokgopo was among the slate of speakers—including Amnesty International secretary general Kumi Naidoo and Clara Vondrich, another report co-author and director of DivestInvest—at a press conference in Cape Town Monday to discuss the report.

Amnesty's Naidoo emphasized that "the struggle for climate justice is a struggle for fundamental human rights."

"Every person facing deeper levels of drought, stronger hurricanes, or conflict has been wronged by these fossil fuel companies," he said. "Their rights to health, water, food, housing, and even life have been harmed, which is why Amnesty International has decided to divest from fossil fuel companies."

Vondrich of DivestInvest noted that "institutional investors literally have the power to make or break the future" because "money lies behind every decision to expand or contract the fossil fuel industry, to slow or accelerate the clean energy transition."

"There is no more time for shareholder engagement with the fossil fuel industry that is digging and burning us past climate tipping points of no return," Vondrich added. "It's time to divest. What side of history are you on?"

The divestment report and summit come as campaigners calling for bold efforts to battle the climate crisis are planning protests worldwide to coincide with an upcoming United Nations climate summit in New York City. The week of action will begin with a global climate strike on Sept. 20.

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