The retirement systems’ failed shareholder engagement efforts with fossil fuel companies has cost their members $11.9 billion in returns
California — A report released today from Fossil Free California reveals that California’s public pensions voted to oppose climate action at major fossil fuel companies and financiers during the 2022 Annual General Meeting season. This exposé comes two weeks ahead of an Assembly Committee hearing on SB 1173, a bill that would require the funds to divest from fossil fuels, that was passed only two weeks ago by the California Senate.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) are the largest fossil fuel financiers among the top pension funds in the country. While the funds claim to engage with the fossil fuel industry as stakeholders to encourage companies to mitigate climate change, this analysis reveals that CalPERS and CalSTRS voted this year to oppose shareholder proposals at fossil fuel companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cease exploration activity, and transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“This latest report today shows that CalPERS and CalSTRS misled us—their members—by voting against climate resolutions, despite claiming their engagement with fossil fuel companies will help bring about needed change,” said Charles Toombs, CFA President. “Studies have already shown a failure to divest in fossil fuels in the last decade cost us an estimated $11.9 billion in returns. The systems lost us money and are actively supporting companies opposed to our present and future needs to combat ecological changes and support environmental justice. It’s long past time for lawmakers to do what these retirement pensions cannot: protect our future investments and pass Senate Bill 1173 this year to start the process of divesting from fossil fuels.”
CalPERS and CalSTRS also wildly exaggerated the cost of divestment to the Senate Appropriations Committee last month, claiming figures as high as $100 million when their own consulting firm, Wilshire and Associates, has shown that the transaction cost associated with selling assets is “considered negligible.”
Furthermore, the funds’ highest profile shareholder action—replacing 3 of 12 ExxonMobil board members—changes to Exxon’s board have not resulted in any meaningful progress to address climate change. Despite claiming “successful” engagement by CalSTRS and CalPERS, ExxonMobil, like the fossil fuel and banking industries in general, persists in climate-wrecking behavior which puts California public pensioners at financial and climate risk.
The full report can be found here.
This chart details NO votes on climate proposals from CalPERS and CalSTR at five major fossil fuel companies:
“It is with supreme disappointment that I have watched my former colleagues at CALSTRS and CALPERS ignore the growing financial, geopolitical and climate risks that now converge and have eliminated any basis for investing in the oil and gas sector,” said Tom Sanzillo, Director of Financial Analysis, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “They know better and perhaps the voice of the California legislature can remind them of their fiduciary duty. Divestment will serve to defend the funds against the loss of value from competitive market forces and to stand against the worst excesses of the industry we are seeing in the Ukraine.”
“The fact that CalSTRS and CalPERS are actively voting against any climate policy WITHIN fossil fuel companies should make it clear to everyone that these oil companies and those who support them will never take the adequate steps to prevent total climate catastrophe,” said Raven Fonseca Jensen (18), Campaign Coordinator, Youth vs. Apocalypse. “These companies’ only interest is profit, and they will always choose that over human life. We need a complete break with the fossil fuel industry if we want to see any kind of climate justice.”
“The climate crisis is the gravest trouble that humans have ever wandered into—and we’ll only get out of it if we have the courage to take on those whose lies, denial, and vested interest stand in the way of change,” said Bill McKibben, Founder, Third Act. “CalPERS and CalSTRS should never have helped the oil companies defeat climate action—but then, they should long since have ended their involvement with them at all.”
“The coalition’s report confirms what environmental advocates across the state have been loudly exclaiming for decades: it’s past time that California public agencies stop investing money in fossil fuel companies,” said Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California. “Despite CalPERS and CalSTRS’s best efforts at stakeholder engagement, polluting industries like oil and gas have consistently refused to take necessary actions towards addressing their emissions. We must divest from them, and continue to hold these industries responsible for their role in harming California’s air quality, environment, and communities.”
“Divestment from fossil fuels companies is an investment in our future. Pension funds must live up to their fiduciary duty, and protect pensioners and climate alike, by wielding their institutional investor power for climate resolutions at banks’ shareholder meetings. Yet CalPERS & CalSTRS voted against all climate resolutions at all big banks and major fossil fuel companies,” said Amy Gray, Senior Climate Finance Strategist at Stand.earth. “CalPERS and CalSTRS are hiding behind the fool’s errand of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies while talking a big game about engaging on climate. They are not only actively voting against climate, they continually obstruct climate action while communities experience devastating drought and wildfires. It’s morally reprehensible.”
“I do NOT want my pension dollars or my tax dollars invested in climate destruction fossil fuels. Our money should be invested in forward thinking green energy and climate restoration innovation,” said Carol Van Sant, CalSTRS member, 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations.
Since 2014 CalSTRS has been touting the effectiveness of engaging with fossil fuel companies as opposed to their beneficiaries’ requests that they divest. So much for engagement! BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and TotalEnergies are involved in over 200 expansion projects on track for approval from 2022 through 2025. Engaging with fossil fuel companies in a lost cause. To quote UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres: Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” said Jane Vosburg, CalSTRS beneficiary and Fossil Free California President.
Contact: CJ Koepp, Fossil Free California, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE TO THE EDITOR: Spokesperson available for interview.