The Planet

Fossil Fuel Divestments Reach $3.4 Trillion at Paris Talks

by Eric Pfeiffer

December 2, 2015
Image via Tree Resource Hub / Flickr user Paris Climate. Credit: Emma Cassidy, Survival Media Agency.

Building a sustainable energy future is a two-way street. While the first day of COP21 revealed exciting plans for the future of green energy investment, today marks a significant milestone at the other end of the spectrum, with companies committing to divest an astonishing $3.4 trillion from fossil fuels. For context, that is 50 times the amount committed just a year ago.

In a statement released today, 350.org and Divest-Invest announced that some of the major players signing up for the divestment movement include Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and ING, along with an estimated 500 global institutions. At the same time, they made clear that the $3.4 trillion number represents the total value of the companies divesting from fossil fuels—not the actual dollar amount spent on energy investment. Nevertheless, these commitments are a massive, measurable shift away from traditional, carbon-heavy energy sources. 

Moving forward, groups like 350 and Divest-Invest say the next step is leveraging the momentum generated by these private institutions to pressure government agencies to step up their own renewable energy investment efforts—and to end taxpayer-funded subsidies for fossil fuel endeavors. 

Coinciding with the divestment numbers, organizers of the divestment movement announced a series of milestones today, showcasing a number of governments, private companies, and educational institutions that have signed on to take money out of the fossil fuel industry. Nineteen French cities joined the cause as of today, along with 60 cities overall.

Other highlights from 350.org’s release include:

  • Münster, with a population of nearly 300,000, became the first German city to divest completely from fossil fuels.
  • Melbourne, with a population of over 4 million, committed to go fossil free ahead of COP21. 
  • Oslo, home to more than 600,000 and the capital of Norway, announced it is divesting its $9 billion pension fund from coal, oil, and gas companies, becoming the first capital city in the world to ban investments in fossil fuels.

Of course, part of reaching that goal depends on what kind of agreement comes out of Paris. For example, India pledged to scale back its investments in fossil fuels, but only if a COP21 agreement includes funds to help them make the transition to renewable energy sources. “Hydro, nuclear, all of these non-carbon sources are what we will develop to the largest extent we can,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, in a talk with reporters in Paris. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson has also publicly rejected divestment efforts, citing the need to protect pension funds, which was echoed in similar moves by Harvard University, according to National Geographic.

Still, the shift has some news outlets asking whether fossil fuels are becoming the “next tobacco” in terms of a large-scale public awareness effort aimed at triggering behaviors. And even with major challenges ahead, it appears the divestment movement is close to reaching a critical mass of momentum from which it is unlikely to retreat.

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Fossil Fuel Divestments Reach $3.4 Trillion at Paris Talks