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Matt Remle, far left, and the organization Mazaska Talks led months of protests at Seattle's pipeline- and tar-sands-funding banks: Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, TD Bank and US Bank. Alex Garland

By Deonna Anderson

In February 2017, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation to divest from a financial institution because of its role in funding the Dakota Access pipeline.

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A message to the Irish government to divest from fossil fuels is spelled out in lights in front of the lower house of parliament. Sasko Lazarov / 350.org

Ireland took a major step Thursday towards becoming the first country in the world to divest from fossil fuels, NPR reported.

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Following in the footsteps of the University of Dayton, the first Catholic school to divest from fossil fuels, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) announced Saturday its resolution to do the same. 

Image courtesy of 350.org

The faith-based organization of more than 1,000 congregations has about 2.9 percent of their $175 million investment dollars in fossil fuel companies under their UUA Common Endowment Fund (UUCEF), according to the Providence Journal. Saturday's vote was overwhelmingly in favor of divestment. 

“We are encouraged that the UUA can continue its longstanding successes in shareholder advocacy while helping to lead the divestment movement with the approval of today’s fossil fuel divestment resolution,” said David Stewart, co-chair of the UUA’s socially responsible investing committee. “We believe strongly that any effort that can change the current trajectory of climate change is a welcome improvement.”

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, tweeted his enthusiasm and appreciation over the weekend:

The resolution requires the UUA to:

  • Cease purchasing securities of Carbon Tracker 200 (CT200) companies as UUCEF investments immediately.

  • Continue to divest its UUCEF holdings of directly held securities of CT200 companies, reaching full divestment of these companies within five years.

  • Work with its current and prospective pooled-asset managers for the purpose of creating more fossil fuel-free investment opportunities, with the objective of full divestment of UUCEF indirect holdings in CT200 companies within five years.

  • Invest an appropriate share of UUCEF holdings in securities that will support a swift transition to a clean energy economy, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency-related securities.

“We, private citizens and the private and nonprofit sectors, need to take matters into our own hands and use every strategy we can to convince the government and public at large of our planetary emergency, and that we must act now,” said Terry Wiggins, a leader in pushing through the divestment decision. 

According to the UUA, the organization has a long-standing history of activism in environmental justice. Most recently, the UUA has supported the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon emissions for new and existing power plants, as well as worked to increase transparency in the executive office of Chevron Corp.

 

Today and tomorrow hundreds of customers with Australia’s Big Four Banks will close their accounts in a statement against the banks’ investments in new coal and gas projects. These customers will be taking part in Australia’s first "National Days of Divestment Action" organized by Market Forces and 350.org Australia.

Below, a slideshow of the first day of Divestment highlights conscious residents who are taking a stand:

[blackoutgallery id="332982"]

Since May of last year, hundreds of customers have "put their bank on notice" and pledged to move more than $100 million AUD out of the Big Four banks unless they commit to ruling out future loans to coal and gas projects.

This is the first time that customers of Australia’s largest banks have been mobilized for a divestment action of this scale. Since 2008, Westpac, ANZ, NAB and the Commonwealth Bank have loaned a collective $19 billion AUD to new coal and gas projects, including the controversial Abbot Point coal terminal and the Maules Creek coal mine.

“The rapid expansion of coal and gas in our country at the expense of communities, other industries and the environment is cause for concern for a great many Australians,” said Julien Vincent, lead campaigner for Market Forces. “By moving their money to banks which do not fund fossil fuel projects, individuals are making a statement that it is not socially acceptable to profit from the destruction of our planet.”

The key objective of the "National Days of Divestment Action" is to cause a social stigma around fossil fuel investments in a similar manner to the boycotts against the South African apartheid regime and the tobacco industry.

This is the latest phase in the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement, which has won support from high profile individuals such as  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, World Bank President Dr Jim Yong Kim and Head of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres

“Banks worldwide are fueling the climate crisis with investments in fossil fuels that also expose them to a huge financial risk,” said Tim Ratcliffe, 350.org European divestment coordinator. “The global divestment movement is challenging this gamble with our money and our future.”

“To prevent climate catastrophe, 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves need to remain underground. The days where it was acceptable to invest in fossil fuels are over. There is a groundswell movement building up and the banks need to start listening,” Ratcliffe added.

Fossil fuel companies are currently grossly overvalued. The vast majority of their carbon reserves is unlikely to be exploited, which will turn them into stranded assets. For example, a report commissioned by the Greens/European Free Alliance Group of the European Parliament assessed the risk the exposure to high-carbon assets poses to Europe’s top 43 banks and pension funds. It concluded that more than €1 trillion in European financial institutions is at risk from the growing carbon bubble.

According to a study conducted by Oxford University, the fossil fuel divestment movement is the fastest growing divestment movement in history. It has already seen numerous institutions committing to divest and is making an impact in the financial community, as well. The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the world’s largest investment fund, recently announced an investigation into whether it should divest entirely from fossil fuels. Similarly, just this week, the world’s largest fund manager BlackRock teamed up with London’s FTSE Group to create a new set of indices excluding fossil fuel companies.

Last month's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also recommended that $30 billion be moved out of fossil fuels each year to keep warming below the two degree threshold that international governments have committed to.

“Companies are becoming increasingly sensitive to the financial and reputational risks associated with investing in fossil fuels,” said Blair Palese, CEO of 350.org Australia. “At the end of the day, no company wants their logo displayed on a weapon of mass destruction.”

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Today, 93 faculty members from Harvard University sent an open letter to the president and fellows of the school, calling on the university to divest from fossil fuels.

Graphic courtesy of Harvard Faculty for Divestment's Facebook page

In signing the letter, faculty members expressed disappointment with the April 7 statement from President Drew Faust that divestment is not an option the university is willing to consider.

According to Harvard Faculty Divest, President Faust's statements claim that while Harvard owns a very small fraction of these stocks representing a small fraction of its endowment, the school will exert greater influence if it continues to hold these shares than if it openly divests. This indicates a misunderstanding of the purpose and goals of divestment, and ignores the lessons of the past.

The faculty members point to the misinformation perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry, saying the industry seeks to promote the denial of accepted science and exert an undue degree of influence on government, while marketing a product that we cannot afford to continue consuming. 

The letter goes on to reference the extreme weather, rising levels of acidified oceans and reductions of biodiversity from the unstable global climate that represent major threats to human health as documented consequences of fossil fuel extraction and consumption that the university cannot afford to ignore. 

The conclusion of the letter reads:

We know that fossil fuel use must decrease. To achieve this goal, not only must research and education be pursued with vigor, pressure must also be exerted. If there is no pressure, then grievous harm due to climate change will accelerate and entrench itself for a span of time that will make the history of Harvard look short.

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The European Union’s climate chief has become the latest political heavyweight to publicly support divestment from fossil fuels.

EU Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard calls on development banks to divest from fossil fuels. Creative Commons: Connect Euranet, 2011

Connie Hedegaard has urged the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Bank to take a lead role in eliminating public finance support for fossil fuels.

Although all three of the banks have policies aimed at encouraging lending to renewables and energy efficiency, in practice fossil fuel projects continue to benefit from their support.

Between 2007 and 2011, the EIB invested €15 billion in fossil fuel projects compared to €14.8 billion in renewables, while similarly around half of the EBRD’s annual €6.7 billion of energy lending is still going to fossil fuels.

With a collective annual lending pot of €130 billion, Hedegaard said the banks must “lead by example by restricting conditions for greater public financing of coal, the most damaging fossil fuel, and by pressing for greater transparency in reporting on emissions.”

The World Bank looks set to take its first step in this transition, as a leaked report last month announced the bank would stop lending to coal power projects, except in “rare circumstances” where there were no other options available.

Experts say that two-thirds of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves must be left underground if disastrous levels of global warming are to be avoided.

By continuing to invest in ultimately unburnable fossil fuel assets these banks are contributing to a “carbon bubble” that poses a major risk to economic security.

Hedegaard joins other political figures and a growing chorus of people supporting the divestment movement, pushing the issue up the agenda.

Two weeks ago, President Obama used his climate change speech at Georgetown University to call on U.S. citizens to “convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”

Smart organizations are already shifting their money away from risky fossil fuel assets.

Last week, pension fund, Storebrand, pulled out of 19 fossil fuel companies to “reduce fossil fuel and CO2 exposure and ensure long-term stable returns” stating that such high carbon assets would likely become “worthless financially” in the future.

The bank, Rabobank also announced a blanket ban on loans to firms involved with oil sands and fracking for shale gas due to the financial and environmental risks associated with projects of this nature.

The United Church of Christ also became the latest notable organization to approve a fossil fuel divestment strategy in the U.S., becoming the country’s first national and religious body to do so.

In the UK, the Church of England has also said it would consider divesting from fossil fuels, following a resolution passed by the diocese of Southwark—with the issue now passed onto the General Synod, the legislative body which governs the church.

The church has already reduced its exposure to fossil fuels by 62 percent since 2010, a significant shift in its £8 billion of assets, which has previously seen large investments in oil giants Shell and BP.

Following in the footsteps of giant institutions, local businesses and individuals are also starting to minimize their exposure to the carbon bubble and harness the potential of clean energy investments, showing they are ready to invest in renewables.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: What are you doing to contribute to the growing divestment movement?

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Storebrand, a major Norwegian pension fund and life insurance firm, has announced it has divested from 19 fossil fuel companies.

Announcing the move, the group’s head of sustainable investment, Christine Tørklep Meisingset, said it had gone down the divestment route to “reduce fossil fuel and CO2 [carbon dioxide] exposure and ensure long-term stable returns” for its members—as these stocks, it says, will be “worthless financially” in the future.

She said:

"[As] the stated climate goals become reality, these resources are worthless financially, but it is also true that they do not contribute to sustainable development in the extent and the pace we want. Exposure to fossil fuels is one of the industry’s main challenges, and for us it is essential to work purposefully to take our share of responsibility."

Its decision to divest comes after the publication of Carbon Tracker’s latest Unburnable Carbon report, which said some 60-80 percent of fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.

In total, it has pulled out of 13 coal extractors and six firms that are heavily exposed to tar sands oil.

Bold moves like this that channel finance away from carbon-intensive assets towards clean renewable energy projects gained a ringing endorsement from Barack Obama last week.

The divestment and clean investment movement appears to be gaining momentum.

In Europe, the Dutch bank Rabobank recently took the extraordinary step of enforcing a blanket ban on loans to firms involved with oil sands and fracking for shale gas.

In both cases, it claimed the financial and environmental risks were too great for it to lend money.

While in the U.S., where the movement has been strongest, the United Church of Christ is the latest notable organization to follow the trend and approve a fossil fuel divestment strategy, becoming the first national and religious body in the U.S. to do so.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

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DO YOU THINK IT IS TIME TO COMPLETELY DIVEST FROM FOSSIL FUELS?