Fossil Free NYC/NYS:
350NYC’s Divestment Campaign
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Endorse the campaign
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Why divest from fossil fuels?
It’s simple math: we can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Burning the all the fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide — five times the safe amount.
Fossil fuel companies are planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.
The top 200 publicly held fossil fuel companies own the vast majority of underground fossil fuel reserves. Their stock prices and business plans depend on digging up and burning these reserves, which would lead to a 6-12 degree, or more, warmer future.
It may not sound like a lot, but a global 6-12 degree rise in average temperate would make most of the planet uninhabitable. If it’s wrong for these companies to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.
What can we do about it?
Through our collective power, we can turn the tide away from fossil fuels. Divestment is a tried and true tactic that people, companies, and governments have used throughout history to promote social change. Here in New York City, the City already has laws on the books divesting our pension funds from guns, tobacco products and alcohol.
Divestment is effective on three levels:
1. Public Awareness
Divestment is hugely effective form of public awareness because everyone has a role to play. You often hear people say that they already recycle and have changed their light bulbs –what more can the do? The truth is that most people haven’t thought to look at where their money is invested to see if it aligns with their values. When people realize they have a choice about where they invest, where their government invests, where their local community groups invest and work with other people to shift those investments it not only creates a sense of power, but it makes a real difference too.
2. Economic Impact
Fossil fuel companies need investment money to run their operations, drill new wells, and build new pipelines. Businesses, governments, and not-for-profits all provide money to these companies when they allow their bank accounts, retirement accounts, and pension funds to be invested in fossil fuels. If these groups refuse to fund fossil fuel companies, fossil fuel companies have to look elsewhere for loans, and those loans may be more costly, which ultimately increases the fossil fuel companies’ costs. This sends a real economic signal that CEOs pay attention to.
3. Social Benefits
Every penny moved out of a fossil fuel investment must be put somewhere else. Since climate change is the greatest threat to society as whole, money moved elsewhere is better for society, especially if it’s invested in socially just companies, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
Through our investments and through our voice in public institutions and workplaces, we have the power to change the course of history–by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in our future.
Making New York City’s Investments Fossil Free
Even as extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy threaten to overwhelm local budgets, federal action to solve this crisis is all but stalled. We have the solutions, but we won’t see any political progress on the issue until we can weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry.
Of all the institutions that ought to be looking out for the public good, surely our local and state governments are foremost among them. They have a responsibility to divest from an industry that’s destroying our future, and reinvest in solutions to climate change. We believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels.
The bottom line is this: divestment is the only moral choice for governments that care about their citizens.
What are we asking for (specifically)?
We want New York City to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.
The NYC Pension Funds
The total NYC Pension Fund assets under management as of 2012 is $127,458,000,000 and includes the city’s cash balances, the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS), Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), Fire Department Pension Fund (Fire), Police Pension Fund (Police), and Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) The Comptroller is the custodian and investment advisor to the Boards of the five Pension Funds, and therefore can exert powerful influence over the Boards on responsible investment issues.
For example, former Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn recently wrote in a public letter: “I have directed the City’s Finance Director, Glen Lee, that the City will not invest cash balances in fossil fuel companies in the future…. I have written to our pension system governing board to request that they refrain from investing in fossil fuel companies in the future, and begin exploring options for moving existing investments from fossil fuel companies. I will work with the City Council, City staff and the pension board on pursuing divestment in that portfolio.”
The Financial Risks of Investing in Fossil Fuels
These companies must keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground.
There are a few ways that coal, oil and gas reserves could become “stranded assets” basically, assets that have lost their value. The first way is if we limit global warming to 2 degrees through government regulation and cheap and abundant clean energy. If global warming is limited to 2 degrees, then this essentially means roughly 80% of fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, devaluing the coal, oil and gas reserves that these 200 companies have on the books.
On the other hand if there is no limit to how much fossil fuel we burn unabated and we head towards 6 degrees of warming, then vulnerable sectors will be affected. Agriculture, infrastructure, property and insurance sectors will suffer across asset classes. Hurricane Sandy caused $65 billion in damages alone, and wasn’t limited to the fossil fuel sector. 21st Century stranded assets could result due to extreme weather, crop production yields declining, acidifying oceans, health concerns and many other climate related drivers.
Using the NYC comptroller’s clout, shareholders can and have moved companies to adopt more environmentally responsible practices. The comptroller should continue to lead shareholder advocacy campaigns with companies in a wide range of sectors to set greenhouse gas emission goals, improve energy efficiency across operations and source more renewable energy.
But, there is an inherent conflict of interest for investors to advocate that coal, oil and gas companies stop the production of fossil fuels given that it is their core business. Investors might persuade a coal company to put more protective linings in the land pits where it stores coal ash, but there is little rationale for investors to ask a company to stop pursuing the very activity that generates its revenues. So while shareholder advocacy remains an excellent vehicle for improving corporate sustainability in many areas, it is less effective as a tool for changing the overall orientation of industries whose business models depend on producing fossil fuels.
Being a fiduciary responsible for investing other peoples’ money means that you have a say in how investment risk is measured and recommendations implemented. There is significant latitude in the laws governing fiduciaries to encompass fossil fuel divestment. Adam Kanzer, managing director and general counsel of Domini Social Investments recently wrote: “First and foremost, fiduciaries must be dedicated to their beneficiaries’ financial goals. This requires a deep understanding of risk and opportunity, including those relating to “social issues” that affect consumer demand and the broader economy, or impose legal risks and operational costs (e.g., cleanup costs). The debate has moved on from the artificial, bifurcated view of reality that views the investment portfolio in isolation from the real world. A modern fiduciary must understand how the corporation affects the health of the systems upon which it depends for its long-term survival.”
While we do not require that the city reinvest in specific areas, New York City could benefit from reinvesting funds into new building projects, energy efficiency, public transportation and other green infrastructure projects, all of which often have better returns than fossil fuel stocks and bonds.
For references and more information visit 350.org’s divestment campaign.
Divestment Resources All links below open .pdf documents 350NYC: An Introduction to Fossil Free NYC, a 350NYC Divestment Campaign
A Brief Divestment Fact Sheet
A Brief Fossil Fuel Divestment Factsheet
The Aperio Group: Building a Carbon Free Portfolio
building_a_carbon_free_portfolio – The Aperio Group
Impax Asset Management: Beyond Fossil Fuels: The Investment Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment
Impax Investment Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment US Final-1
Ceres: Investor Concerns About Fossil Fuels Are Growing
Investor Concerns About Fossil Fuels Are Growing — Ceres
Boston Common Asset Management, LLC: Boston Common’s Approach to the Energy Sector
HIP Investor: Resilient Portfolios and Fossil Free Pensions
More divestment resources are available on
(updated by 350.org).