October 9, 2021
Trillion-dollar pension fund TIAA faces climate-washing complaint brought by hundreds of professors and scientists
New York, NY — Nearly 300 clients of the $1.2 trillion retirement giant TIAA filed a formal complaint today with the UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) initiative, alleging TIAA’s substantial investments in fossil fuels and deforestation violate TIAA’s climate pledges and commitment to the six Principles for Responsible Investment.
TIAA participants, including the academics Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, Dipesh Chakrabaty, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Judith Butler, are filing the complaint to highlight TIAA’s investments in the drivers of climate change, including at least $78 billion in fossil fuels, $9.1 billion of which are coal industry bonds. Such investments escalate the climate emergency while violating the commitments TIAA made to PRI through its subsidiary and asset manager, Nuveen. TIAA also invests heavily in timber and industrial agriculture linked to deforestation and illegality. Deforestation is second to fossil fuels as a driver of climate change. The complainants call on the PRI to investigate and address TIAA’s “irresponsible investments and systematic greenwashing practices.”
Bill McKibben, author, climate expert, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, and TIAA client, commented:
“Most of the people that this giant fund serves are teachers, members of a profession that takes intellectual honesty — and the future — seriously. Time for TIAA to do the same.”
The complainants argue that TIAA’s refusal to consider fossil fuel divestment violates its fiduciary duty because burning fossil fuels ignores the interests of its clients and harms their long-term financial well-being.
TIAA is one of the world’s largest holders of bonds across the coal value chain — ranking 4th globally — including holding over $91 million in bonds of the conglomerate Adani that owns the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia. TIAA/Nuveen also invests in fossil fuel companies, including Chevron, Exxon, Enbridge, TotalEnergies (building the contested East African Crude Oil Pipeline).
“When TIAA invests teachers’ money in catastrophic fossil fuels and land grabs, they fundamentally undermine the work we do to prepare students for rich, fulfilling lives,” commented Caroline Levine, Cornell University professor, and TIAA-Divest! team member.
The complainants, with the support of TIAA-Divest!, call on TIAA to establish a moratorium on new fossil fuel investments, including both shares and bonds; to divest its existing fossil fuel investments by 2025 in line with a 1.5°C pathway; and to stop land grabs leading to deforestation and human rights harms, in order to make good on the specific commitments it has made as a PRI signatory.
If TIAA/Nuveen refuses to come into compliance, the complainants are asking PRI to expel Nuveen from the PRI initiative.