It started on January 8th when, after 5 years of community pressure, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would divest its $189-billion pension funds from fossil fuel companies. It was huge, not just in dollars – $5 billion of fossil fuel industry funding retracted – but also in symbolic power.
By tagging on a lawsuit against 5 major oil companies for climate-related damages, the city sent a clear message: the fossil fuel industry is to blame for our warming climate, and to cool things down we must defund them and strip them of social licence to profit from that destruction.
We’re taking on Big Oil because it’s the right thing to do to protect the future of our city and our planet. pic.twitter.com/kezomaxKiL
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 13, 2018
It’s a point the global movement for divestment has been making since 2012. Even though the total value of institutions who divested now surpasses $6 trillion, there’s no saying exactly how high that figure will go this year and beyond. Since the NYC announcement, a flurry of commitments has been coming in from around the world and picking up steam. And with each and every divestment win, we’re weakening the public acceptance that’s been enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry for decades.
Some of the fastest progress is happening in Europe, with a waterfall of wins in the past few weeks and months:
Freiburg, Leipzig and Oldenburg city councils in Germany and Derby and Monmouthshire councils in the UK have all made full divestment commitments. The student divestment movement in the UK has been using escalation as a powerful tactic, and has had some huge wins too, with Edinburgh, Sussex, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Huddersfield, Glasgow Caledonian, and Angela Ruskin Universities all joining the party. And in Germany, the University of Münster became the country’s first university to divest, with more local groups building public pressure for another big uni announcement in April.
3 Russell Group unis #divest in one week ✊
63 UK unis with some kind of divestment commitment 😮
That’s over £11bn of endowments divested 🔥
Over 800 institutions globally 😎
Adding up to $6tn between them 🤑#FossilFree #Divestment pic.twitter.com/HHXzJYdUhu
— People & Planet (@peopleandplanet) March 22, 2018
Even the Danish pension fund for academics, MP Pension, has committed to divest, along with the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and Hamburg’s Chamber of Commerce.
These successes bring 2018’s total divested funds to $79 billion, excluding New York City. In the month of March alone, more funds ($50 billion) were divested than from 2012 to 2015 combined.
And in February, the city of Paris — not to be outdone by New York –- also reaffirmed its divestment commitment and announced it’d look into suing oil companies for climate damages.
More recently, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has reaffirmed his intent to divest of the city’s pension fund, and is calling on local boroughs to follow suit. It’s a trend that could keep spreading to other cities, particularly those who take part in the C40, a global network of cities committed to climate action.
In the States, Lewis and Clark College also voted to divest their holdings in coal, oil and gas in February. Canada and New Zealand also saw divestments in 2018 so far, from the McGill Association of University Teachers, and the city of Palmerston North, respectively.
Altogether, the first few months of 2018 marks the biggest jump in total number of divestment commitments since the period around the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.
At this rate, the sky’s the limit. Who knows — in 2018 we might divest more from the fossil fuel industry than in all years prior. But in order to stay on track, we need to keep using our people power — we know that local organising gets results. Wherever you are in the world, you can get involved in a local divestment campaign in your community, and push for your city, university, bank, church or other institution to go Fossil Free.
The full list of divestment commitments around the world is here. Who will be next?