Divestment from Fossil Fuels: A Guide for City Officials and Activists

  • February 26, 2014
  • COWS
  • Mayors Innovation Project

Climate change represents the single greatest long-term threat to our cities and citizens. The health, wealth, infrastructure and ability to maintain basic services of cities will increasingly be degraded as our planet warms and our weather worsens. Yet local governments are currently sharing in the profits made by the fossil fuel industry – investing in the very companies that are directly responsible for this threat.

According to current scientific predictions, we can only put 500 gigatons more of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and still keep global temperature rise below 2°C, a goal that the United States and nearly every other country on Earth has agreed to meet. Here’s the terrifying part: the fossil fuel industry has 2795 gigatons of CO2 in their coal, oil and gas reserves, five times more than we can burn and stay under the 2 degree threshold.1 If we’re going to see serious progress on slowing climate change, we’re going to have to keep that carbon in the ground, and that means addressing the fossil fuel industry head-on.

Divestment, a strategy pioneered in this country during the antiapartheid movement, is a powerful tool that we can use in this fight. The logic of divestment is simple: We shouldn’t be funding our retirement by investing in companies whose operations ensure we won’t have a safe planet to retire on. It’s not worth greening your city for the next generation, if you’re also investing millions in companies that are threatening that generation’s future. Local governments have the opportunity to be leaders in combatting this contradiction by divesting their funds – general, retirement, utility, pension, etc. – from fossil fuel companies.