People's Climate March NYC. Elizabeth Stilwell / Flickr

New York Takes Giant Step to Divest From Fossil Fuels

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released separate plans on Tuesday to divest state and city pension funds from coal, oil and gas companies.

Environmentalists are celebrating this major win in the global movement for fossil fuel divestment, as the state and city's public pension funds are among the largest in the world, representing a combined $390 billion.

Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday he was working with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to study how the $200 billion Common Fund can stop "significant" investment in fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy and a low-carbon economy.

New York's pension fund holds shares in more than 50 oil and gas companies, including oil giant ExxonMobil. Divesting from such polluting entities, Cuomo said, would lead to "a more secure retirement fund for countless New Yorkers while also helping to achieve the state's clean energy goals."

Cuomo cited recent examples such as Norway's intention to divest its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund in oil and gas holdings, as well as the World Bank announcement that it will stop financing oil and gas exploration after 2019.

That same day, Comptroller Stringer separately announced that New York City would also explore a plan to de-carbonize its portfolio.

"Today, I'm announcing that my office will bring a proposal to the trustees of the NYC pension funds in the coming weeks to examine ways to de-carbonize the portfolios, including the feasibility of ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy," Stringer said.

The state and city's moves follows five years of powerful advocacy from thousands of climate activists.

"The dam has broken: after years of great activism, New York has taken a massive step towards divesting from fossil fuels," said Bill McKibben, the 350.org co-founder who helped launch the growing divest movement. "Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It's a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels."

To date, more than 800 institutions representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets have committed to divest. Other New York institutions that have cut ties with fossil fuel companies include Cooperstown, Barnard College, Columbia University, Syracuse University and the American Museum of Natural History.

Rachel Rivera, a member of New York Communities for Change, also praised her lawmakers for their proposals.

“During Sandy, the water took everything from me in a storm supercharged by climate change. My family back in Puerto Rico is still without power and resources due to a devastating hurricane. This did not happen by chance, I know this is caused by corporations like ExxonMobil that continue to profit from a business model that destroys the planet,"Rivera said.

"Today, I am happy to congratulate Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli for making New York the leading state in the country fighting against climate change. It's both morally bankrupt and bad finance to invest our public funds in climate destruction. Now at the city level, [Public Advocate Tish James, who urged divestment], has pointed the way, and Comptroller Stringer has rightly responded by moving forward with fossil fuel divestment to protect all New Yorkers and the planet."

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