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New York, New York: Another Divestment Win

By staff - Fossil Free California, January 25, 2021

Three of New York City’s five pension funds announced they are divesting a total of $4 billion from fossil fuels following a six year campaign led by a multiracial, multigenerational coalition. Pension funds for teachers, school administrators, and civil servants voted to divest from fossil fuels. Police and fire department pension funds have not yet voted to divest. Said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, “Divestment is a bold investment in our children and grandchildren, and our planet.” The divestment of the $239 billion NYC pension funds is the largest municipal pension fund divestment to date.

The New York City commitment joins last month’s pledge by NY State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli to divest the $226 billion state Common Retirement Fund from the riskiest fossil fuel companies, and fully decarbonize the portfolio by 2040, a decade earlier than the “net-zero by 2050” pledges made by other funds such as California’s CalPERS.

After a 2018 divestment commitment made by Mayor de Blasio and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, a coalition of retirees, youth activists, and union representatives held countless meetings with city officials and staff, scoring interim successes on related projects such as stopping the Williams Pipeline, getting a ban on all new fossil fuel projects in NYC, and doubling NYC investments in climate solutions. Youth and elders from New York Communities for Change, People’s Climate Movement NY, DivestNY, 350NYC, 350.org, and a host of other organizations celebrated every success and focused on growing a stronger and stronger coalition. New York City coupled its 2018 commitment to divest with a string of lawsuits against Big Oil – see “Divest and Sue”.

“It is right and just that, in the midst of the deadly pandemic, our beloved NYC is choosing life over death and acting on its commitment to divest the pension funds from fossil fuel investments,” said Marilyn Vasta, for People’s Climate Movement NY. “For too long we have financially supported the polluters that harm us; it is time to make polluters pay as we invest in a just transition to renewable energy. Although it has taken almost a decade, from small living room meetings to a city-wide cry for divestment, the People’s Climate Movement-NY proudly stands today with Comptroller Stringer and Mayor de Blasio, and applaud them for taking this positive step towards a fossil free future.”

Divestment is a strong remedy for the social and environmental harms caused by continued fossil fuel use and investment, but the urgency of the climate crisis demands this kind of bold climate action. Divestment should be part of every engagement strategy, and it is the best tool for removing climate-related financial risk from a portfolio. 

New York State and New York City are showing us the way: now CalPERS, CalSTRS, and California’s 20 municipal pension funds need to follow suit. To catch a glimpse of some of the New York climate activists that made this victory possible, check out this video of our coalition panel called “Youth and Elders Unite for Climate-Safe Pensions” that aired during last summer’s “Earth Day Live”.

Greenpeace USA’s Just Recovery Agenda: A Pathway to a New Economy

By Ryan Schleeter, Amy Moas, Ph.D., and Tim Donaghy, Ph.D. - Greenpeace, November 17, 2020

The economy we have today works for the 1%, not the 99%. The devastation wrought by COVID-19 in the United States—the death, anxiety, isolation, and instability—is the direct result of a system designed to concentrate power in the hands of a few. People are suffering and dying not only because of the virus, but because of the longstanding inequality and racism it has laid bare. This is the same system that has landed us in a climate and extinction crisis in which our very life support system—our planet—is under attack.

As we chart the course toward recovery, we must also confront these social, environmental, and economic injustices at their roots. The centuries-long era of racial capitalism[1]—the system under which wealthy white elites and massive corporations have controlled and exploited land, communities, and cultures to acquire power—must end.

Going back to normal is not an option. The past was not only unjust and inequitable, it was unstable. What we knew as “normal” was a crisis. We must reimagine the systems our country is built on from the ground up. We envision a world where everyone has a good life, where our fundamental needs are met, and where people everywhere have what they need to thrive.

Read the text (PDF).

‘Troubling Incrementalism’: Is the Canadian Pension Plan Fund Doing Enough to Advance the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy?

CalPERS Continues to Invest in Coal

By Robert Dam and Vanessa Warheit - Fossil Free California, September 2020

This 14-page report shows that CalPERS continues to hold millions in coal producers that make the majority of their revenue from thermal coal. In fact, CalPERS even increased its investments in Exxaro, a company that qualified for divestment in 2017 but was retained by CalPERS because they said they were investing more in green energy. But Exxaro’s modest clean energy initiatives are dwarfed by its current coal operations in South Africa, and by its intent to seek permits for a six-fold expansion of its coal mining, which could be a tipping point for the climate.

In recognition of coal’s outsized contribution to human-caused climate change, in 2015 California passed a law – SB 185 – requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from companies making 50% or more of their revenue from the mining of thermal coal.  A 50% share of revenue sets a very high bar that can be reached by only the small number of “pure-play” coal mining companies that remain in business.  Many investors, including BlackRock and the State of New York, define a “coal company” with a much lower threshold of 25% or even 10%.

If CalPERS coal holdings are analyzed more broadly, using the criteria of the Global Coal Exit List, it’s clear that CalPERS holds billions in coal – coal mining companies, coal-fired utilities, coal distribution and services, and large diversified companies with substantial coal operations. Instead of winding down its investments in coal, which was the intent of SB 185, CalPERS actually increased investments in coal by $1.5 billion dollars between 2018 and 2019, for a total of $6.5 billion throughout the whole coal value chain. 

CalPERS’ coal exclusion policy is weak compared to those of many other institutional investors. By failing to set a strong coal exclusion policy, CalPERS has already lost billions in absolute value on its coal investments, and the sector continues to decline. As New York State’s Tom DiNapoli said when he decided to divest 22 thermal coal companies, “After a thorough assessment, the fund has divested from 22 thermal coal mining companies that are not prepared to thrive, or even survive, in the low-carbon economy.”

Download (PDF).

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in Maine

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economic Research Institute, August 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in Maine, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study proposes a recovery program for Maine that is capable of exerting an effective counterforce against the state’s economic collapse in the short run while also building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. Even under current pandemic conditions, we cannot forget that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change. As we show, a robust climate stabilization project for Maine will also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the state.

The study includes three sections:

  • 1. Economic Stimulus through Restoring Public Health;
  • 2. Clean Energy Investments, Public Infrastructure Investments, and Jobs; and
  • 3. Financing a Fair and Sustainable Recovery Program.

ReImagine Appalachia: a (Green) New Deal That Works for Us

By staff - ReImagine Appalachia, August 2020

Appalachians have a long history of hard work, resilience, and coming together to face enormous challenges. Our region is a place of ingenuity. A place where families and neighbors look out for one another.

Now is the time to put our ingenuity to use and imagine a 21st century economy that works for the people in the Ohio River Valley of Appalachia. An economy that is good for working people, communities, our health and the health of our neighbors. One that is grounded in the land and centered on creating wealth locally. One that relies on working people, already skilled in service, industry, trades and farming. One that offers hope to the next generation’s workers—regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity or gender. And one that does our region’s part to meet the nation’s climate challenge, just as we met the call to provide coal energy to fuel a growing nation a century ago.

Right now, our nation is in crisis. We face the COVID epidemic, a deep economic downturn, extreme inequality, racism, police brutality, and the consequences of a changing climate such as severe storms and flooding. These crises demand from us real, lasting and structural change. It is not a matter of if, but when. When the nation rises to the occasion, people in Appalachia need to be at the table and helping to lead the charge. Together, we can build a vision for the Appalachia we want to live in.

Read the text (PDF).

Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan's Failure to Respect the 1.5-degree Celsius Limit

By James K. Rowe, Steph Glanzmann, Jessica Dempsey and Zoë Yunker - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2019

THE WORLD’S LARGEST PENSION FUNDS comprise over half of global investment capital. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) manages one of the country’s largest pools of investments, at $400 billion. How pension funds choose to invest has significant bearing on how we collectively address the climate emergency and the needed energy transition away from fossil fuels. In this report we ask: Is the CPPIB investing with the 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global average temperature rise in mind?

In April 2016, Canada was among 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement, committing to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Our major finding is that the CPPIB is not investing with the 1.5-degree limit in mind. Within its public equities portfolio, it has over $4 billion invested in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel reserve holders (oil, gas and coal). To stay within 1.5 degrees, these companies can extract only 71.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet the companies the CPPIB is invested in have 281 billion tonnes in reserve, meaning they have almost four times the carbon reserves that can be sold and ultimately burned to stay within 1.5 degrees. Since reserves are factored into current company valuations, this means the CPPIB has invested billions of dollars in companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget.

This is a moral and ecological failure. It is also a financial risk. As energy generation shifts away from fossil fuels, investors who do not respond could be left with “stranded assets”—investments that are no longer profitable. In its 2019 Financial System Review, the Bank of Canada included climate risk in its analysis for the first time. Canadian fossil fuel companies and their investors are especially exposed to stranded asset risk since the majority of oil produced in Canada is high-cost, carbon-intensive bitumen from the oil sands. And yet, the CPPIB remains exposed to the biggest oil sands majors, with over $1.2 billion invested in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus. Canadian pension beneficiaries may therefore be particularly vulnerable to stranded assets and the financial risks they pose.

Read the report (PDF).

UNISON launches a campaign for pension fund divestment with a Guide for Local Unions

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

On January 10, 2018,  the U.K. union UNISON launched a campaign to encourage members of local government pension schemes to push for changes in the investment of their funds – specifically, to “explore alternative investment opportunities, allowing schemes to sell their shares and bonds in fossil fuels and to go carbon-free.”  A key tool in this campaign: Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide, which states:  “Across the UK there are nearly 50 divestment campaigns targeting local government pension funds ….. In September this year, it was revealed that a total of £16 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry by Local Government Pension funds.”  The new Guide explains how the U.K. pension system works for local government employees, and provides case studies of existing divestment campaigns.  In addition, it provides “Campaign Resources”, including a model campaign letter, a glossary of pension and investment terms,  and it reproduces the Pensions and Climate Motion passed at the 2017 UNISON Delegates conference.  The Guide was written by UNISON, in collaboration with ShareAction – a registered U.K. charity that promotes responsible investment practices by pension providers and fund managers.

Information about the divestment campaign, as well as information about the National Auditor’s Report re the U.K. Green Investment Bank,  is included in the January-February issue of the newsletter of the  Greener Jobs Alliance , a U.K.  partnership of “trade unions, student organisations, campaigning groups and a policy think tank.” The Greener Jobs Alliance is part of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, which is organizing an event on March 10 in London: Jobs & Climate: Planning for a Future that Doesn’t Cost the Earth

Should Your Union’s Pension Fund Divest from Fossil Fuels?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 2018

This guide is designed to help you and your union consider whether you should divest from fossil fuels.

Working people collectively own an enormous amount of capital in our pensions. As a sector, pensions are the largest source of investment in financial holdings, even larger than standard investment houses and banks! Pensions constitute over $40 trillion! Our pension funds are invested in stocks and bonds that may not be serving our interests as working people and may be harming our families’ futures. Imagine what we might be able to support and build, imagine the great jobs we could create, if we use more of our pension funds to directly benefit our members and our families.

The Guide Contains:

  • An introduction to pension fund divestment and links to further information about it
  • Whether failure to divest can constitute a failure in fiduciary responsibility
  • How you can respond to divestment proposals and what questions need to be answered to reach a decision
  • How to start a divestment campaign yourself and answers to questions you may encounter from union members and divestment opponents

Download and Read the PDF Here.

A Guide for Trade Unions: Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition

By staff - European Trade Union Confederation, September 2018

A guide to a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy is published by the European Trade Union Confederation on May 15.

The 48 page document ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’ contains

  • Recommendations for economic diversification and industrial policy, skills, social protection and governance for a socially just transition
  • Information on how trade unions can and have been engaged in shaping national climate action
  • Examples of innovative projects that can inspire a more just transition

Key recommendations include

  • Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition
  • Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils
  • Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies
  • Promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems
  • Unions and workers should assess the risks linked to ‘stranded assets’

The guide shows that up to half of trade unions have NOT been consulted on sectoral decarbonisation strategies, but over 75% were consulted on long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

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