Divest and sue: the wave of the future. The term “divest” — to remove money from fossil fuel producers and banks that finance fossil fuel projects — is often paired with its opposite, “invest”. New York City has now brought “sue” as a new partner to the divestment dance floor, with its recent decisions to divest its $189 billion pension funds of $5 billion in fossil fuel investments AND to sue the top 5 oil companies whose products have brought about the worst impacts of climate change. As The Intercept put it, “This was a big, big, good day for the planet.”
“Either one of these announcements individually would have been huge,” said Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, “But the fact that they come together is in fact even more important because these risks—the risk of long term divestment and the risks of mounting litigation—are fundamentally interwoven.”
With this pairing of divestment and litigation, the nation’s largest city could lead the way in significantly affecting the continued viability of fossil fuel companies in world energy markets. While divestment does more damage to a company’s reputation than to its finances, these actions send a strong market signal that these are risky investments that are harming the planet.
A remarkable number of divestment announcements emerged in recent weeks, including the announcement in November that Norway plans to divest roughly $35 billion in fossil fuels investments from its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund.
On the litigation front, pioneering lawsuits in California have been joined by major cities such as San Francisco and Oakland, with a recent call for Los Angeles to join the fray. Not unexpectedly, oil companies such as Exxon (frequently named in suits along with oil majors BP, Conoco Phillips, Shell, and Chevron) are preparing to counter-sue. Game on.
With the advent of the most encouraging divestment news since Bill McKibben started the “Go Fossil Free” campaign 5 years ago, 350.org is rolling out its “Fossil Free Fast: The Climate Resistance” campaign on January 31. Fossil Free California is hosting a watch party in Oakland to coincide with the live event in Washington, DC.