Divestment is the opposite of an investment. It means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Fossil fuel investments are a risk for investors and the planet – that’s why we’re calling on institutions to divest from these companies.
In recent history, there have been a number of successful divestment campaigns. The largest and most impactful one targeted South African Apartheid, which helped break the back of the Apartheid government.
The fossil fuel divestment campaign has also been hugely successful – the fastest growing divestment movement of all time! Globally, over $3.4 trillion of assets across over 500 institutions has already been divested!
From Apartheid South Africa to Tobacco, divestment has been an important lever for change.
Divestment from South Africa was first advocated in the 1960s, in protest of South Africa’s system of apartheid, it was implemented on a significant scale by the mid-1980s.
The disinvestment campaign was realised in federal legislation enacted in 1986 by the United States and is credited by some as pressuring the South African Government to embark on negotiations ultimately leading to the dismantling of the Apartheid system.
The documentary ‘The Bottom Line’ explores the impacts and mechanisms of the South African divestment movement as part of the anti-apartheid movement.
This article from the Guardian examines the historic impact of divestment fights.
The campaign for divestment from tobacco was led by health organisations across the world.
The Oxford University Stranded Assets Report (2014) concluded that, while tobacco divestment has no financial effects, it did contribute towards stigmatisations of the tobacco industry with their stocks being labelled as ‘sin stocks’
This graph from the report shows the value of tobacco divestment commitments:
To read more about the fight against tobacco and a comparison to fossil fuel divestment, see this article.
According to a study by Oxford University, the fossil fuel divestment movement is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign in history and presents a real threat to the fossil fuel industry by removing its social acceptance. It’s the political power rather than the financial power that’s important.
The outcome of the stigmatisation process, which the fossil fuel divestment campaign has now triggered, poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.
- There are now over 1,100 petitions targeting universities, faith groups, cities and other institutions around the world.
- By September 2015, 450 institutions with an asset base of $2.6 trillion had committed to divest from fossil fuels.
- The full set of divestment commitments can be found here.
- The divestment commitment from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, heirs of the Rockefeller oil fortune created sparks on the eve of the Sept 2014 climate talks, and said: “We are quite convinced that if he (John D Rockefeller) were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy”.
- The World Council of Churches representing half a billion christians committed to divest, and has been followed by significant asset holders such as the Church of Sweden
- The University of Glasgow was the first university in Europe to commit to divest. The total university commitments is now 28. Stanford’s partial divestment in May 2014 caused international media waves, while the biggest commitment is from Syracuse University at $1.2bn in April 2015
- In July 2014 the British Medical Association that represents all UK doctors committed to divest
- So far the Guardian Media Trust with £800m assets represents the biggest divestment commitment in the UK (April 2015)
- AXA became the first global financial institution to shun investments in coal companies, following Credit Agricole’s announcement earlier in the week to end funding for coal mining
‘…then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Aside from the increase in public awareness around divestment and growing acceptance of the ‘80% of fossil fuels to stay in the ground’ narrative, one of the biggest indicators of the campaign’s success is the push back from the fossil fuel industry.
- Ahead of Global Divestment Day the industry released its own cartoon attacking divestment
- Industry representatives in Australia have been lobbying the Australian government to make campaigning for divestment illegal
- In response to Stanford’s divestment a spokesperson from World Coal said “Those in the fossil fuel industry will understandably be wary of such developments.”