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BlackRock report finds divestment yields positive financial returns

April 03, 2021

The New Yorker:

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. It definitively shows that the firms that joined that divestment effort have profited not only morally but also financially.

The original report, from the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, found something stark: the world’s fossil-fuel companies had five times more carbon in their reserves than scientists thought we could burn and stay within any sane temperature target. The numbers meant that, if those companies carried out their business plans, the planet would overheat. At the time, I discussed the report with Naomi Klein, who, like me, had been a college student when divestment campaigns helped undercut corporate support for apartheid, and to us this seemed a similar fight; indeed, efforts were already under way at a few scattered places like Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania. In July, 2012, I published an article in Rolling Stone calling for a broader, large-scale campaign, and, over the next few years, helped organize roadshows here and abroad. Today, portfolios and endowments have committed to divest nearly fifteen trillion dollars; the most recent converts, the University of Michigan and Amherst College, made the pledge in the last week.

The latest findings are making that charge difficult to sustain. For one thing, they come from the research arm of BlackRock, a company that has been under fire from activists for its longtime refusal to do much about climate. (The company’s stance has slowly begun to shift. Last January, Larry Fink, its C.E.O., released a letter to clients saying that climate risk would lead them to “reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”) BlackRock carried out the research over the past year for two major clients, the New York City teachers’ and public employees’ retirement funds, which were considering divestment and wanted to know the financial risk involved. Bernard Tuchman, a retiree in New York City and a member of Divest NY, a nonprofit advocacy group, used public-records requests to obtain BlackRock’s findings from the city late last month. Tuchman then shared them with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonprofit that studies the energy transition. 

[Bill McKibben]

More: The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

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