OP-ED: Amidst COP28, TIAA’s Fossil Fuel Investments are Devastating Children’s Health Around the World

This is cross-published from an op-ed in Common Dreams.

Yesterday, health ministers and global leaders at the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai held sessions on the dire impacts to global health and disparities caused by climate chaos and fossil fuels, and the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels as an urgent global health imperative.

Yet the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) invests a shockingly high proportion of its assets under management in fossil fuels.

As teachers, health professionals, and plan participants, we are horrified by this and demand that TIAA end these toxic and immoral investments.

Health experts have long been alarmed by coal’s deadly impact on human health worldwide; a new report details that it is even deadlier than previously thought: production alone killed 460,000 people in the U.S. in the past 20 years. Thousands are still dying each year, directly from coal production.

TIAA is a major investor in coal. TIAA is the world’s largest coal bond investor in the biggest coal producer on Earth, Adani; overall, it’s the fourth largest investor in coal bonds on the planet.  

TIAA holds a staggering $78 billion in oil and gas investments.

This includes direct holdings in the world’s largest and dirtiest fossil fuel producers like ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies. TIAA is the second largest investor in fossil fuel bonds on the planet.

These investments have horrific global health implications, and cause direct harm to millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly children in the Global South.   

  • In Delhi, the world’s second most populous city, one in three children have asthma and airway obstruction attributed to fossil fuel PM2 exposure, described as “like breathing poison.”
  • Just a few subway stops from TIAA’s 3rd Avenue headquarters in Manhattan, where executives amass millions in annual compensation, children in the Bronx suffer some of the highest asthma rates in North America.
  • Across the U.S., from inner city Los Angeles to Gulf Coast Louisiana to rural Pennsylvania, children in marginalized communities suffer disproportionate health impacts from fossil fuel exposure with lifetime implications: respiratory conditions, neurological disorders, neonatal complications and even pediatric cancers are all linked directly to fossil fuels via direct exposure or residential proximity to production sites.

The global harm to human health from fossil fuels is staggering: one in five preventable deaths is caused by fossil fuel air pollution, according to Harvard researchers.

As world governments gather for COP28, we demand that TIAA:

  1. Establish a fossil fuel exclusion policy for all future investing, effective immediately.
  2. Dump all deadly coal bonds immediately.
  3. Establish a rapid timeline to phase out all existing holdings connected with fossil fuels, in alignment with established global reduction targets.

TIAA’s massive fossil fuel investments provide the finance which enables huge capital-intensive oil and gas pipelines and drilling projects now underway across Africa, Asia, and North and South America.  This ensures catastrophic additional greenhouse gas emissions into the future, while exacerbating existing global health disparities, poisoning local air, water and soil, and displacing thousands.

We reject any concept of “fiduciary responsibility” which ignores fossil fuel investments’ violations of global health and climate justice.

From Delhi to Detroit, the most vulnerable people bear the brunt of fossil-fueled climate chaos including worsening fires, floods, smoke, toxic air, and deadly heat.   

TIAA’s marketing slogan is “Invest in Your Legacy,” but the only legacy derived from billions in fossil fuel investments is climate chaos,  environmental destruction, disease, and death.

In October, the National Academy of Medicine — the most revered medical organization in the US — announced its commitment to divest from fossil fuels, joining nearly 1600 institutions around the world.

The teachers, physicians, and nurses urge TIAA to stop ignoring global health experts; hundreds of thousands of TIAA clients have already spoken out.

It’s our money, and it’s past time TIAA divest from fossil fuels.  



Caroline Levine is a Professor at Cornell University & member of the coordinating committee of TIAA-Divest.

Amy Gray is the Associate Director, Climate Finance with Stand.earth, and coordinates the Climate Safe Pensions Network.

Iris Marie Bloom is Founder of Protecting Our Waters, and co-Founder of TIAA-Divest.

Don Lieber is a surgical technologist and campaigner with First, Do No Harm.