New York City takes the lead on fossil fuel divestment


In a significant step forward for the divestment movement, New York City announced last week that it will divest its city pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.

At the same time, the city announced a lawsuit against five of the biggest oil and gas corporations for the damage caused by climate change, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio, writing in the Washington Post, said: ‘For decades, Big Oil ravaged our environment. They knew what they were peddling was lethal, but they didn’t care… Today, we are saying, “No more”.’

350.org founder Bill McKibben, commenting in the Guardian, said the announcement means that: ‘Our planet’s most important city [is] now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial.’

He strongly questioned the engagement approach being pursued by many pension funds and institutions, and whether this can bring about real change: ‘For all the “climate risk disclosure” and token investments in renewables that the industry promises, it’s clear that nothing is really changing with their business model.’

An especially encouraging aspect of the New York City announcement is that they have set out a clear timeframe for divestment from all fossil fuels. The two largest city pension funds, New York City Employees’ Retirement System and Teachers’ Retirement System, will aim to divest by 2022, while the other three major pension funds will ‘be encouraged to begin divestment as quickly as practical’.

The total being divested by New York City ($5 billion) is a significant amount: equivalent to around half of the total assets of the Church Commissioners. But equally significant is the message being sent by the home of one of the world’s leading financial centres.

Economists are now saying that the decision is likely catalyse other cities in US and around the world to follow suit. And London is now under pressure to join New York in divesting from fossil fuels.

Could this announcement mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry? It is certainly a clear sign that the tide is beginning to turn in the fight against climate change. In this crucial year for climate action, let us continue praying and acting to build on this momentum.


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