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Blackrock protest

Climate activists gathered outside the BlackRock office in New York City on May 25, 2022. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett

As BlackRock held its annual general meeting on Wednesday, 22 climate scientists and academics sent an open letter to a top leader at the world's largest asset manager, calling for action to align the firm's business with the Paris agreement's 1.5°C goal for this century.

"Mr. Hildebrand, you and BlackRock face a choice."

The experts directed their demand at Philipp Hildebrand, a Swiss banker who is BlackRock's vice chairman and a member of the firm's Global Executive Committee. While several signatories to the letter are based in Switzerland, others are from France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

They wrote that despite BlackRock's recent climate pledges, it remains "one of the largest shareholders at many of the companies driving the climate crisis," and argued that as such, the firm "needs to be taking a firmer position advocating for energy transition."

"As scientists and academics, we are writing this letter to tell you directly that the facts are clear: New coal, oil, and gas development is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C," the document states.

The letter continues:

The devastating impacts of the climate crisis are harming people around the world, from deadly heatwaves and floods, to fires, droughts, crop failure, extreme storms, and rising sea levels—as well as destroying entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs and the Amazon. Expanding fossil fuel production guarantees extreme events will become both more frequent and more severe, with immense costs in terms of human lives, livelihoods, and economies. The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions. This applies to us, as scientists, but even more to you, since your company is investing in companies pursuing and enabling fossil fuel expansion.

The experts also called out Hildebrand, noting that at the annual general meeting of Credit Suisse last month, "you personally had an opportunity to demonstrate that your and BlackRock's climate goals are more than mere greenwashing, empty words to distract from your actions. Instead, you failed to support a shareholder resolution that asks Credit Suisse to reduce its exposure to fossil fuel assets."

"Worse, BlackRock has argued for expansion of fossil fuel extraction to address the energy crisis emerging from Russia's invasion of Ukraine," notes the letter. "This war, rather than providing justification for fossil fuel expansion, demonstrates that these energy sources do more than threaten the stability of a livable planet."

"Mr. Hildebrand, you and BlackRock face a choice," the letter concludes. "For the stability and credibility of your company, we urge you to align your company's investment emissions trajectory to be consistent with 1.5°C, and to outline a clear path to eliminate fossil fuels. We await your actions, not just statements, at the upcoming BlackRock annual general meeting."

Some signatories—including NASA scientist Peter Kalmus and Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University—have been involved in similar calls this year, such as a letter pushing U.S. President Joe Biden to ditch fossil fuels in favor of renewables, and another urging educational institutions to stop letting the dirty energy industry fund climate research.

While climate experts sent Hildebrand a letter for the meeting Wednesday, demonstrators including an interfaith delegation of clergy gathered outside the BlackRock office in New York City—an action that led to some arrests, according to the group GreenFaith.

"We are here today to say that killing the planet is against our religions!" GreenFaith tweeted Wednesday. "Stop investing in companies that are fueling the climate crisis."

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