Was 2021 the tipping point for fossil fuel divestment?

What do Harvard College, the Ford Basis, and French financial institution La Banque Postale have in frequent? In 2021, all introduced that they might divest from fossil fuels.

The motion first appeared on U.S. faculty campuses in 2011, pioneered by college students calling on their faculties to take away fossil fuel investments from their endowments. Now a decade outdated, these concerned in its efforts say 2021 has been a specific profitable yr, with extra faculties—together with pension funds, giant philanthropies and others—divesting and shifting the cash into equitable local weather options.

“This yr was a turning point yr in that actually the divest-invest motion is profitable. It has hit the mainstream,” says Heather Coleman, Setting Program Director with Wallace World Fund, a basis that donates to environmental group and helps divest-invest motion activists. The fund additionally labored with Stand.earth, C40 Cities, and the Institute for Vitality Economics and Monetary Evaluation on a report about divestment bulletins in 2021.


There are actually $39.2 trillion in property underneath administration, throughout 1,485 institutes, dedicated to be divested from fossil fuels, that report discovered—up from $52 billion throughout 181 establishments in 2014. That quantity is bigger than the U.S. GDP, which is round $20.9 trillion. And the price of establishments making pledges to divest has grown, too; the first three years of the motion noticed 181 public commitments, per the report, whereas the previous three years have seen 485 new commitments.

In 2021, main commitments got here from Harvard College, which, after years of stress from scholar activists, introduced it can divest its $53 billion endowment from oil, fuel, and coal; Banque Postale, which has $894 billion in property and dedicated to divest from all oil and fuel corporations by 2030; and the Ford Basis, with $17 billion in property. Actions have come from the philanthropic sector, insurance coverage corporations, state and metropolis pension funds, together with New York and London and from the religion group—together with the Catholic Church, with the Vatican calling divestment from fossil fuels a “moral imperative.”

For a lot of divest-invest activists, the marketing campaign that began as an ethical argument, however more and more, Coleman says, it’s was a monetary case as properly. “Now it’s actually, actually clear in the information that it’s a foul monetary wager to spend money on the fossil fuel sector,” she says.

The push for establishments to take their cash out of fossil fuels is much more essential in gentle of the have to be internet zero emissions by 2050. “What activists are saying is that you just really can’t transfer in direction of being that zero and 2050 In the event you weren’t instantly divesting from fossil fuels,” Coleman says. What validated that argument, she provides, was a report in 2021 on limiting warming 1.5 levels celsius that mentioned reaching that purpose would require no new funding in oil, fuel, and coal tasks.

“That backs up analytically what the fossil fuel divest-invest motion has been saying for 10 years and is, I believe, a part of why we’re seeing a turning point now,” she says.

Trying ahead for what’s subsequent on this struggle, Coleman notes that these commitments should get even stronger—some are partial commitments, solely making use of to coal or excluding fossil fuels like tar sands—and have to be adopted with actions, not solely phrases. There additionally must be steps towards that second, “make investments” a part of the promise: The motion is demanding that every one institutional traders instantly transfer to take a position a minimal of 5% of their property in local weather options, doubling to 10% by 2030.