I n June 2011, a group of college students and environmental activists met at Wallace Global Fund to discuss an exciting new proposal: Why not launch a coal divestment campaign on the nation’s campuses, modeled loosely on the anti-Apartheid activism of the 1980s?
Within a year, divestment campaigns were underway on 50 campuses. Climate activist Bill McKibben had launched a national tour calling for divestment of all fossil fuels. Today, Divest-Invest has spread worldwide to become a full-fledged global movement, demanding divestment from fossil energy and investment in climate solutions.
And while it began as a moral summons to action, Divest-Invest has gained traction in financial circles, thanks to work by WGF-grantee Carbon Tracker Initiative that showed most of the reserves owned by the world’s fossil fuel companies are over-valued “stranded assets” that cannot be safely used within a 2-degrees Celsius warming limit.
Divest-Invest has brought hospitals, cities, pension funds, universities, faith groups, foundations, and individuals into direct climate activism. Ahead of the 2014 UN Climate Summit, more than 800 institutions and individuals announced their commitments to divest from fossil fuels—for a total of over $52 billion in fossil-free investments.
Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key figure in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and now a leading spokesman for Divest-Invest, opened up the press conference announcing these historic commitments.
“Climate change has become the Human Rights challenge of our time,” he said. “I commend the individuals and institutions who are announcing divestment of their assets from fossil fuels and are investing instead in the clean energy needed for human survival.”
The birth of this movement gives us all reason for hope. With the power of commitments by institutions and individuals of conscience, we can step back from the brink of climate change and move toward a clean energy economy that benefits everyone.