$3.4 Trillion: Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Break New Record
The fossil fuel divestment campaign has broken a new record at COP21: More than 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment according to 350.org and Divest Invest, two organizations coordinating the growing movement.
The new numbers are another impressive leap for the divestment effort, although campaigners are quick to point out that some of the commitments are only partial divestments and the $3.4 trillion represents the total amount of assets represented by institutions, not the amount of money divested, which is difficult to track due to varying degrees of disclosure.
Today’s announcement is another sign in the early days of the Paris climate summit that investors are reading the writing on the wall and dramatically shifting capital away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy.
On Monday, Bill Gates and a group of investors announced the launch of a multi-billion dollar private sector coalition, Breakthrough Energy Coalition, to accelerate clean energy innovation. Other voices, including many of the world’s most vulnerable countries, are demanding that the Paris agreement send a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels has come to an end and the dawn of renewables is irreversible.
The institutions that have joined the fossil fuel divestment campaign hope that their actions can push governments to follow suit by shifting public finance from fossil fuels to climate solutions. Many are calling on governments to specifically make good on their promises to end fossil fuel subsidies and fulfill their climate finance commitments.
In September 2014, 181 institutions representing $50 billion in assets had made a divestment commitment. On Sept. 21, during Climate Week in New York City, 350.org and Divest-Invest announced the number had jumped to 400 institutions representing $2.6 trillion under management and launched a “Divest for Paris” initiative to garner new commitments ahead of COP21. In the intervening 10 weeks between then and today, more than 100 institutions made new divestment commitments.
Organizers will announce a series of new divestment announcements and endorsements Today, including:
- 19 French Cities have endorsed divestment ahead of COP21: 350.org will announce for the first time that they have secured commitments from 19 French cities, including Lille, Bordeaux, Dijon, Saint-Denis, Rannes, Ile-de-France and others.
- The French parliament has endorsed divestment: On Nov. 25, the French National Assembly adopted a resolution encouraging public investors, companies (especially those in which the states owns shares) and local authorities not to invest in fossil fuels anymore. The resolution is the first step to formalizing the policy as law.
- The French Ensemble Foundation will join European Divest-Invest: Jacqueline Délia Brémond, Co-founder and Co-Chair will announce that the foundation will join the European Divest-Invest initiative and divest their holdings from fossil fuels. Since 2004, the foundation has given over $28 million to environmental causes around the world.
Some of the most notable new announcements since Sept. 21 include:
- Uppsala became the largest city in Sweden to endorse fossil fuel divestment.
- Münster became the first city in Germany to divest completely from fossil fuels.
- Melbourne, the capital of Australia, committed to go fossil free ahead of COP21. In fact, Australia has seen a seven-fold growth in the divestment movement, from two councils divesting in 2014, to 14 divesting as of now. Together, these funds represent AUD $5.5 billion in assets under management.
- Oslo, the capital of Norway, announced that it will divest its $9 billion pension fund (€8 billion) from coal, oil and gas companies, becoming the first capital city in the world to ban investments in fossil fuels.
- Dutch pension fund PFZW announced it will divest from coal companies and reduce its investments in other fossil fuel companies. The fund has €161 billion of assets under management.
- London School of Economics, one of the preeminent economics schools in the world, dropped all its direct and indirect holdings of coal and tar sands and all direct holdings of fossil fuel companies.
- Allianz, Europe’s largest insurance company, divested €630 million of their own capital investment portfolio from coal and are reinvesting over €4 billion into wind energy over the next six months. This is one of the largest funds to make a commitment to divest from fossil fuels. Allianz tied their announcement to COP21, making the moral and economic case for investing in cleaner technologies.
- APRA AMCOS, the biggest music industry organisation in the southern hemisphere announced that it is beginning the process of divesting from all fossil fuels. APRA AMCOS distributed over $250 million in royalties to its 87,000 songwriter and composer members last year, making it a large cultural force for divestment.
- London Science Museum announced plans to dump Shell Oil as a sponsor, amidst controversy and public pressure.
- In addition to the London School of Economics 5 Universities from the UK took action: Oxford Brookes University, University of the Arts London, University of Surrey and University of Sheffield divested from all fossil fuel companies; Wolfson College (Oxford university) divested from coal and tar sands. Fund manager CCLA, which manages investments for Birmingham City University, Cranfiled University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Portsmouth, University of Westminster excluded coal and tar sands from its investments.
- The first church in Germany, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, managing €1.8 billion, committed to drop investments in coal, oil and gas too.
- Two weeks ago, renowned economists Thomas Piketty and Tim Jackson wrote a letter in The Guardian, calling on investors to divest from fossil fuel ahead for the COP21.
The commitments vary in their exact language and some are only partial divestment commitments or just apply to a particular fossil fuel, such as coal or tar sands. At many institutions on the list, activists are still pushing for more action. The top line number refers to the number of assets under management by the institutions that have made a commitment, not the amount of money directly removed from fossil fuels. The goal is to demonstrate that a growing number of significant institutions are either reducing their carbon risk, taking a moral stance on fossil fuels, increasing investments in climate solutions or all of the above.
The announcement event today at COP21 included the following speakers: May Boeve, executive director of 350.org; Bill McKibben, co-Founder of 350.org; Pascal Canfin, senior advisor for International Climate Affairs at the World Resources Institute; Jeremy Leggett, from Carbon Tracker Initiative; Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers foundation; Jacqueline Délia Brémond, co-founder and co-chair of the Ensemble foundation; Clara Vondrich, Global director of Divest / Invest philanthropy; Kevin De León, president pro tempore of the California State Senate; Jesse Bragg, media director at Corporate Accountability International; Noelie Audi-Dor, president of LSE Divest; Jess Worth, from “BP or Not BP?”; and Kathy Jetnil- Kijiner, Poet and a Pacific Climate Warrior from the Marshall Islands.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>