Activists from student divest-invest campaigns and leaders of the global fossil fuel divest-invest movement recently discussed the significance of Harvard University’s decision to divest itself from fossil fuel investments and what it means for campaigns targeting universities, cities, pensions, and other financial institutions.
The speakers also spoke to the financial impact of these announcements on the fossil fuel sector and their significance in the lead up to COP26, the global climate summit of world leaders in Glasgow in November. The press conference was hosted by Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, Stand.earth and Wallace Global Fund.
Following nearly a decade of pressure from student activists, alumni, and faculty, Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university, announced that it has nearly entirely divested its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuels and will bar any future investments in coal, oil and gas.
“There have been thousands of alumni, students and faculty who have taken part in this,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. “Anyone who has been engaged in all of the other thousands of divestment campaigns, successful or unsuccessful, have played a huge role in bringing this general pressure to bear.”
Harvard’s divestment announcement marks a historic win for the fossil fuel divest-invest movement. The victory comes after nearly a decade of campaigning on campus and around the world by students, faculty, alumni, and activists.
“One of the biggest, longest standing targets of the global fossil fuel divestment movement has fallen – it’s never been clearer than now that the smart money is getting out of fossil fuels,” said Richard Brooks, Climate Finance Director with Stand.earth. “In the lead up to COP26 and after the devastating extreme weather events of the past year, this is a further call to action to universities, pension funds, banks and insurers around the world to jettison coal, oil and gas. Now.”
Driven by movement pressure, this landmark announcement marks a tipping point that will cascade throughout mainstream endowments and financial institutions globally. It builds momentum for a series of major announcements slated for the end of October on the eve of the United Nations COP 26 climate summit.
The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started on just a handful of college campuses in 2012, has now spread across the globe.
More than 1,300 institutions representing more than $14.6 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment.
Notable commitments include New York City and State pension funds, the City of London, the country fund of Ireland, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the State of Maine, the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association, the University of California, Oxford University, Brown University, Columbia University, and many more.
“Harvard’s divestment paves the way for not only divestment campaigns at other universities like Princeton to succeed, but also locally, regionally, and nationally. I really can’t express how happy I am for all of the Divest Harvard organizers. You did what I’ve been dreaming of for years now,” said Hannah Reynolds, Divest Princeton co-coordinator.
“Since New York City became the first major city in the nation to commit to divesting our pension funds from fossil fuel reserve companies three years ago, we have been thrilled to see many cities and institutions join us in this commitment,” said Ben Furnas, Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability. “Harvard’s announcement sends a powerful signal that we are in a critical moment to stop funding the climate crisis and to change the way we spend, invest, and support the green jobs and clean technology we need to secure a livable future.”
“For nearly a decade the community, staff, students and organizers have sustained pressure on the administration, and today we are really seeing the payoff, ” said Ilana Cohen, Organizer with the Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard Campaign.”
“When students are organized, they win. As we organize powerful campaigns, secure fossil fuel divestment, and leave campus, our movement is setting our sights higher – toward the banks, insurers, and asset managers who bankroll the fossil fuel industry,” said Sof Petros, Columbia University alum and climate campaigner at Future Coalition. “Every penny to polluters is locking us into deadlier heat waves, hotter fires, and higher floodwaters. We’ve won on campuses — and now we will win beyond them. That’s why, carrying the torch from the divestment movement, young people are directing a new wave of energy toward demanding an end to fossil fuel funding once and for all.”
“It is the movement born out of divest invest that are going to end up, and already are creating the kind of policies that we need to move towards a just and sustainable future,” said Chloe Maxmim, State Senator of Maine and co-founder of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard.