NYC Pension Funds Set 'New Bar for Climate Finance Action' With Approval of $4 Billion Fossil Fuel Divestment

Members of the campaign to Divest New York state's pension funds from fossil fuel holdings held a picket outside Arnhold Hall at the New School in New York City on March 26, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

NYC Pension Funds Set 'New Bar for Climate Finance Action' With Approval of $4 Billion Fossil Fuel Divestment

"Fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In another win for the global movement to stop the flow of money to big polluters, New York City leaders announced Monday that two major pension funds have voted to divest their portfolios of an estimated $4 billion from securities related to fossil fuel companies, citing the risks that such holdings pose to both the funds and the planet.

The statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, and trustees of New York City Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS) and New York City Teachers' Retirement System noted that the New York City Board of Education Retirement System "is expected to move forward on a divestment vote imminently."

"New York City has set a new bar for climate finance action," declared author and activist Bill McKibben. "Today's landmark action marks a bad day for Big Oil and a good day for the City's pension systems and our planet. By taking billions out of the companies that own and profit off of fossil fuels, New York City is playing an enormous role in moving the financial industry towards a greener future."

McKibben, a co-founder of the advocacy group and longtime divestment advocate, participated in a Tuesday press conference to discuss the development, which comes three years after NYC leaders committed to divesting major public pension funds and, in partnership with London and C40 cities, encouraged other municipalities to follow suit.

In 2018, de Blasio and London Mayor Sadiq Khan established the first-of-its-kind Divest/Invest Forum to help local leaders shift money away from dirty energy. Last September, they joined with officials from 10 other cities to commit to divesting from fossil fuels and investing in a green, just recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Echoing his statement from September, de Blasio said Monday that "fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment."

"Our first-in-the-nation divestment is literally putting money where our mouth is when it comes to climate change," the mayor added. "Divestment is a bold investment in our children and grandchildren, and our planet."

Henry Garrido said that "as NYCERS trustee and executive director of District Council 37, New York City' largest municipal union, I am proud to vote today with Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer, and my fellow NYCERS trustees in support of divestiture from fossil fuel stocks."

"District Council 37 has been an integral part of a very careful, thorough, and deliberate process to identify the most prudent path to move NYCERS away from fossil fuel holdings, and invest in clean, renewable energy and the new technologies that we must embrace for our future," he said. "Our goal throughout was to proceed in a manner that protected NYCERS' assets and the retirement security of our many thousands of members. NYCERS voted today to embrace the future and a better life for us all."

Stringer noted that "since we announced our first-in-the-nation divestment goal, the urgent environmental and financial risks of climate change have only grown more clear. New York City is leading the way forward because we know the future is on the side of clean energy--not big polluters."

As Daniel Zarrilli, the city's chief climate policy adviser, explained, "Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in climate solutions will accelerate our economic recovery by creating good-paying jobs in clean energy, resilient infrastructure, and environmental justice."

"After a rigorous process, today's vote to approve the divestment plan represents real global leadership that will spur other cities and investors to step up to stop funding the cause of our climate crisis," he continued. "Congratulations to the pension trustees for taking this bold and necessary action. This is how we secure a livable climate for the next generation and end the age of fossil fuels for good."

As the New York Daily News reported:

Asked for names of the companies from which the city will divest, a de Blasio spokeswoman cited part of a press release stating: "The names of companies and the final scope of the divestment will be released following the sale of all targeted securities."

"It is our policy to only share the names of companies after we've executed the sale to avoid financial risks of moving markets by broadcasting specifics," Stringer spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in an email.

Despite the lack of details on that front, fellow climate campaigners joined with McKibben in celebrating the divestment votes and urging others to do the same.

"Thanks to the comptroller, mayor, trustees, and eight years of grassroots activism, we are finally turning the tide against the inertia of business as usual and the funding of our own demise, giving concrete hope for a more sustainable future," said Lyna Hinkel, founder of 350NYC. "May this move inspire other leaders to urgently follow suit."

Rachel Rivera, a member of New York Communities for Change, explained how this development is personal for her.

"My family lost everything to Hurricane Sandy, a climate disaster," she said, referencing the devastating 2012 storm. "I am so happy now to see the pension funds dump billions of dollars of investments in the likes of Exxon. We worked hard to get to this moment. Our movement is rising!"

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