Welcome to this week’s Media Roundup: a curated digest of top stories and major developments in the climate finance space.
Read on below.
Harvard University will stop investing in fossil fuels and instead use its giant $42 billion endowment to support the green economy, joining a growing wave of investors moving away from pollutive industries. Harvard Management Co., which runs the endowment, has no investments in companies that explore for or develop fossil fuels and “does not intend to make such investments in the future,” President Larry Bacow said Thursday in a letter posted on the university’s website. The move comes after years of sustained activism from students calling for fossil-fuel divestment, and amid increasingly urgent demands from investors that financial institutions withdraw their support of businesses that are contributing to man-made climate change.
As the climate crisis sent thousands fleeing wildfires in Northern California, CalSTRS, the nation’s second largest public pension fund, postponed full divestment from fossil fuels for nearly 30 years. Over objections from CTADivest, organizers within the powerhouse California Teachers Association, the retirement fund’s investment committee voted unanimously September 1, 2021,to support a staff recommendation to adopt a net-zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) portfolio by 2050 or sooner. This translates into continued “engagement” or investment in Big Oil until the date the Paris Agreement set for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions.
Student-led organization UAZ Divest is on a mission to discontinue the University of Arizona’s investments in fossil fuels, which as of 2019 amount to over $64 million. The group emphasizes that the university’s investments in fossil fuels are negatively contributing to the ever-intensifying climate crisis and they demand that the university abandon its current investments in fossil fuels by 2025, as well as pledge to refrain entirely from investing in fossil fuel corporations in the future.
The Strathclyde Pension Fund was asked by campaigners to put in place a plan to divest from fossil fuel companies before the COP26 UN climate summit, taking place in Glasgow in November. Earlier this year, a decision was taken to “approve divestment as a tool to address firms that do not engage with the climate crisis”. A detailed assessment from Friends of the Earth Scotland has estimated that the Strathclyde Pension Fund invests more than £836 million in fossil fuel companies, made up of £138 million of direct investment and £698 million indirectly invested. The analysis has suggested that investment has increased by £218 million in the space of a year. The fund’s own estimate put oil and gas investments at £316 million.
Sunrise Bloomington launched its “Disclose Divest Reinvest” campaign at a community town hall event at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to promote a shift away from fossil fuels at IU. A crowd of more than 70 in-person and Zoom attendees listened as student and community speakers voiced goals for the new campaign and motivations for climate action. Calls for divestment, or getting rid of investments in fossil fuel companies, are not unprecedented at IU. The All University Student Organization passed a resolution in 2014 calling for the IU Foundation to “divest its endowment from investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years.” Yet, Sunrise claims IU has not met these goals.
New standards for domestic solid fuels will be introduced across the State within a year, so that the most polluting solid fuels will no longer be available on the Irish market. At present, it is not possible to buy smoky coal in 42 towns and cities across Ireland, but elsewhere it is effectively a free-for-all. The regulations, which are currently being finalised and will be in place before September next year, will in effect make the entire country a low-smoke zone. Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said he is making the announcement now to allow solid fuel suppliers to plan accordingly and continue to invest in less polluting alternatives.
The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) manages the pensions of 20 million Canadians. In a recent Corporate Mapping Project report, we found that the CPP has increased the number of shares it owns in fossil fuel companies since Canada signed the Paris Agreement five years ago. The CPP’s total fossil fuel investments across its entire portfolio have increased from $9.9 billion in 2016 to $11.6 billion in 2020. Sadly, this lack of climate leadership fits a national pattern. Canada and the U.S. are the only G7 countries that failed to reduce emissions since signing the international climate agreement, and Canadian emissions increased the most.
Oil spills taint drinking water and riverbeds. Fumes from fires and chemical-laden sludge endanger neighbors young and old. All the while, multinational corporations continue to defer responsibility for their Nigerian subsidiaries and investors continue to reap profits. Investors that include UBC’s $1.99 billion endowment. UBC is invested in ExxonMobile, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Eni Spa and Total SE which are all Fossil Fuel companies operating in the Niger Delta. UBC has said it will divest from fossil fuels by 2030. But what does that actually mean for students, communities and our climate?
With tens of thousands of people displaced by floods, wildfires and hurricanes this summer, researchers warn that the majority of untapped fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid even more extreme weather. Fossil fuel producers should avoid extracting at least 90% of coal reserves and 60% of oil and gas reserves by 2050, according to a study published in Nature, to limit global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Even then, that gives the planet only a 50% chance of avoiding a climate hotter than that.
A state agency this week dismissed a complaint filed against UW-Madison’s private foundation over its investment in fossil fuel companies, citing a lack of enforcement power. But the agency also said the concerns raised by climate activists should be taken seriously regardless of whether a legal loophole essentially exempts university foundations from the law cited as the basis of the complaint. The Climate Defense Project, a liberal legal group that supports climate activists, lodged a complaint this spring with the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) on behalf of more than 200 students, faculty, alumni and community members. The complaint alleges that UW Foundation’s investment in oil, gas and coal companies violates a 2009 law stipulating that nonprofit entities have a duty to invest in line with their charitable missions.
The world is in danger of losing 10% or more of its total GDP by the end of the century. This is the top takeaway from a recent stress-test study by Swiss Re that looks at the consequences of failing to address climate and environmental risks. To put that into perspective using the most recent economic and human tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic trimmed a full 6% of global GDP in 2020. This is widely seen as an economic catastrophe. So what are countries and companies doing to safeguard against an even more precipitous decline in wealth?