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Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Scores Two New Victories

California Democrats and the University of Hawaii are the latest groups to get behind a growing effort to sever financial ties with oil, natural gas, and coal companies.

by VICE News
May 27 2015, 4:55pm

Photo by Jo Yong Hak/Reuters

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Calls for public endowments to sell their stakes in carbon-intensive industries picked up steam this month as California's Democratic Party and the University of Hawaii system joined the divestment movement.

The governing party of the most populous US state has approved a resolution calling on public employee pension funds and university endowments "to immediately stop new investments in fossil fuel companies" and to unload any positions in the 200 biggest companies in the sector within five years. The measure doesn't commit state agencies to act, but it urged the leaders of the state's legislature and Governor Jerry Brown — all Democrats — to support divestment "without risk of financial loss to its members."

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) alone has nearly $260 billion in assets. It has resisted previous calls for divestment, calling it "an ineffective strategy for achieving social or political goals," since stockholders lose their ability to influence the company once they sell. But the agency and its sister system, the $190 billion teachers' pension fund, signed onto a recent statement urging the finance ministers of the world's major economic powers to support long-term emissions goals and speed the development of a low-carbon economy.

Related: Shell's CEO says we can't burn fossil fuels in an 'unmitigated way'

In Hawaii, meanwhile, the state university's Board of Regents voted to dump fossil fuel stocks from its $66 million endowment a few days after California's Democrats issued their call.

Though the fund could be giving up as much as $462,000 a year by passing on coal and oil companies, a report to the regents noted that many of those firms' assets "will not be able to be developed if the world is to avoid existential threats to human lives that will result if carbon dioxide increases are not contained."

The May 21 vote came after a two-year campaign by climate activists in the Pacific island state. Campaign leaders Divest UH said they're now urging the separate University of Hawaii Foundation to eliminate fossil fuel holdings from its $260 million-plus in holdings. 

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