What is fossil fuel divestment?

Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.

When you invest your money, you might buy stocks, bonds, or other investments that generate income for you. Universities (and colleges in the US), religious organizations, retirement funds, and other institutions put billions in these same kinds of investments to generate income to help them run. Fossil fuel investments are a risk for both investors and the planet, so we’re calling on institutions to divest from these companies.

Divestment is also to end to fossil fuel sponsorship. Fossil fuels companies cultivate sponsorship relationships to help create a ‘social licence to operate’. This contributes to the veneer of legitimacy that enables them to keep expanding operations at a time of climate crisis and to stifle the demands for justice of those communities who live on the frontline of their destructive, polluting operations.

We are an international network of campaigns and campaigners working toward freeing communities from fossil fuels. While each campaign is independently run and may bring different emphases and asks depending on their local context, the majority of campaigns are asking institutions to:

  • Immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies;
  • Divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years
  • End their fossil fuels sponsorship

Most campaigns use this list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies by reserves while others are asking institutions to divest entirely from fossil fuels.

There have been a handful of successful divestment campaigns in recent history, including those targeting violence in Darfur, tobacco advertising, and others, but the largest and most impactful one came to a head around the issue of South African Apartheid. By the mid-1980s, 155 campuses –  including some of the most famous in the world – had divested from companies doing business in South Africa. 26 state governments, 22 countries, and 90 cities took their money from multinationals that did business in the country. The South African divestment campaign helped break the back of the Apartheid government and usher in an era of democracy and equality.

Fossil fuel divestment takes the fossil fuel industry to task for its culpability in the climate crisis. By naming this industry’s singularly destructive influence — and by highlighting the moral dimensions of climate change — we hope that the fossil fuel divestment movement can help break the hold that the fossil fuel industry has on our economy and our governments.