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NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and other trustees of the City’s $189 Billion pension funds announced on January 10, 2018; a goal to divest City funds from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years, which would make New York City the first major US pension plan to do so. In a first-in-the-nation step towards the goal of divestment, the Mayor and Comptroller will submit a joint resolution to pension fund trustees to begin analyzing ways to divest from fossil fuel owners in a responsible way that is fully consistent with fiduciary obligations. In total, the City’s five pension funds hold roughly $5 billion in the securities of over 190 fossil fuel companies. The City’s move is among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date.
“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” said Mayor de Blasio. “At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”
The Mayor also announced that the City has filed a lawsuit against the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies as measured by their contributions to global warming. The City will be seeking damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell for the billions of dollars the City will spend to protect New Yorkers from the effects of climate change. This includes damages to pay for harm that we’ve already seen and damages that are necessary to address harm we expect to happen over the course of this century.
“This is a first-in-the-nation step to protect our future and our planet – for this generation and the next. Safeguarding the retirement of our city’s police officers, teachers, firefighters and city workers is our top priority, and we believe that their financial future is linked to the sustainability of the planet. Our announcement sends a message to the world that a brighter economy rests on being green,” Comptroller Stringer said. “It’s complex, it will take time, and there are going to be many steps. But we’re breaking new ground, and we are committed to forging a path forward while remaining laser-focused on our role as fiduciaries to the Systems and beneficiaries we serve.”
New York City’s lawsuit seeks to recover the billions needed to fund climate change resiliency measures that the City needs to implement to protect the City, its property, and its residents from the ongoing and increasingly severe impacts of climate change. This includes physical infrastructure, like coastal protections, upgraded water and sewer infrastructure, and heat mitigation, but also public health campaigns, for example to help protect residents from the effects of extreme heat. To recover from past harm and prepare for future events, New York City is already executing an over $20 billion resiliency program to protect New Yorkers and build resilience against rising seas, more powerful storms, and hotter temperatures.
Recently uncovered documents make it clear that the fossil fuel industry was well aware of the effects that burning fossil fuels would have on the planet’s atmosphere and the expected impacts of climate change as far back as at least the 1980s. Nonetheless, they deliberately engaged in a campaign of deception and denial about global warming and its impacts, even while profiting from the sale of fossil fuels and protecting their own assets from the effects of rising seas and a changing climate. More than half of the greenhouse gas pollution from the fossil fuel industry has occurred since 1988, according to a recent analysis. Sea levels have risen about one foot since 1900 with much of that rise due to climate change, the most powerful storms are becoming more frequent, and flooding is becoming more frequent and intense.
Climate change is perhaps the toughest challenge New York City will face in the coming decades. Sandy taught us how destructive weather events exacerbated by climate change can be. Rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and precipitation, and the likelihood of more frequent and intense flooding threaten our neighborhoods and infrastructure while exacerbating many underlying social inequities. To adapt to these threats, the City is implementing an over $20 billion program to ensure our neighborhoods, economy, and public services will be ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change. These investments are known to be just the first step in making the City prepared for the impacts of climate change, and more will continue to be needed over the course of the century. The City’s resiliency programs and projects are a shift in the way we live now and how we must develop and implement tools that will make our City more resilient against future risks.
The first step is for the trustees at each fund to instruct the Office of the City Comptroller’s Bureau of Asset Management (BAM) to commission an analysis of the proposed divestment and advise the trustees as to the anticipated impact on the risk and return characteristics of the portfolio. The trustees will also seek legal opinion as to whether carrying out the divestment would be consistent with trustees fiduciary duties to beneficiaries. Assuming a positive legal opinion, the trustees would then instruct BAM to carry out the divestment with specified steps and timelines. In the case of this divestment, transactions would likely be carried out in stages in order to reduce transaction and implementation costs.
Tish James, NYC Public Advocate and NYCERS Trustee: “The effects of human-induced climate change are taking an undeniable toll on our planet. As the largest city in the country, New York has a responsibility to act and to lead, particularly when our federal government is moving backward. I have been proud to stand with advocates and scientists to push for divestment. Today, I thank Mayor de Blasio for his leadership on this critical issue. I look forward to continuing to work with Mayor de Blasio and Comptroller Stringer to ensure that our City’s investments reflect our commitment to creating a more sustainable future, while keeping with our fiduciary responsibilities.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “Two years ago the UFT began looking at ways to mitigate the risk posed by climate change to the Teachers Retirement System portfolio. I’m happy to stand here today with Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer and representatives of the other city pension funds to announce our shared goal of divesting from fossil fuels within the next five years.”
“The burning of fossil fuels is the single largest contributor to human-caused climate change. Unfortunately, those most responsible for the damage done to our planet have denied and buried this fact despite knowing it for decades,” said Daniel Zarrilli, NYC’s Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer. “Today, after a decades-long pattern of deception and denial by fossil fuel companies, New York City is holding them to account. By seeking damages for the investments necessary to protect New Yorkers from the impacts of climate change, and divesting our pension funds from fossil fuel reserves, we are taking the largest action by any city to confront the growing climate crisis and demonstrate the leadership necessary to win this fight against fossil fuels and the damages they’ve caused.”
“Internal industry documents demonstrate that the defendants engaged in large-scale, sophisticated public relations campaigns to portray fossil fuels as environmentally responsible and essential to human well-being – even as their own scientists warned them that continued fossil fuel production would contribute, and was contributing, to dangerous global warming and associated accelerated sea level rise that threatened catastrophic consequences for New York and other coastal cities. Our suit seeks to recover the billions of dollars the City has spent or will be required to spend to protect the public from the devastating consequences of the defendants’ choice to pursue profit over the public welfare,” said NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter.
“Those who are directly responsible for the damaging effects fossil fuel emissions have on our city must be held accountable for their actions. I am looking forward to these companies paying for the resiliency improvements that will benefit the city’s efforts beyond what’s already been committed to.” said Council Member Carlina Rivera. “Combined with a historic divestment, these two important actions cement New York’s status as a leader in the fight against climate change.”
“New York City today becomes a capital of the fight against climate change on this planet,” said Bill McKibben, author and 350.org co-founder. “With its communities exquisitely vulnerable to a rising sea, the city is showing the spirit for which it’s famous: it’s not pretending that working with the fossil fuel companies will somehow save the day, but instead standing up to them, in the financial markets and in court. Ever since Sandy, New Yorkers understand the risk, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. Now, thanks to Mayor de Blasio and his team, the city is fighting back, and in ways that will actually matter.”
“Right now, the tremendous costs of climate disruption are socialized – the public is stiffed with ballooning bills from mega-disasters and the most vulnerable communities are suffering the worst impacts. Meanwhile, the extravagant profits that flow from overheating our planet are systematically privatized. By suing these five oil majors who knowingly deepened the climate crisis, New York City is taking a game-changing first step in reversing this perverse injustice – many other cities and states are sure to follow. Today’s double announcement is a reminder that fossil fuel divestment isn’t just a moral decision: it meets the highest standards of fiduciary responsibility as well. In a rapidly warming world, oil, gas and coal stocks are simply too high risk,” said Naomi Klein, author No Is Not Enough, co-founder The Leap.
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