Energy

Environment-Obsessed Berlin Divests Fossil Fuels

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Berlin’s parliament voted Thursday to divest its $852.8 million public pension from oil and gas companies.

The decision to purge fossil fuel assets makes Berlin the second capital to divest in two weeks. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, jettisoned $3.5 million worth of investments in fossil fuel companies June 17 following a years-long push by anti-oil crusaders.

Christoph Meyer, a campaigner with environmental nonprofit 350.org’s Fossil Free Berlin project, called Berlin’s move a huge victory for the movement in a press statement.

“Berlin’s decision to blacklist fossil fuel companies is the latest victory for the divestment movement, which serves to remove the social license from companies whose business model pushes us into climate catastrophe,” Meyer said.

He added: “We will keep a close eye on the administration to make sure it upholds today’s commitment and urge the city to now take quick steps to break its reliance on coal power.”

Like Stockholm’s purge, the Berlin move to rebuke oil companies was largely symbolic.

Germany has steadily moved from an economy powered by fossil fuels to one energized by renewable energy under a policy called Energiewende. As of 2014, the country churned 26.2 percent of its energy from renewables, according to report from Strom-Report.

“We’re not alone anymore,” Charly Kleissner, the head of KL Felicitas Foundation, an environmentalist activist group pushing divestment, told German business newspaper Handelsblatt. “The next generation is all in.”

Stockholm, meanwhile, promised to divest as Sweden receives the bulk of its energy from nuclear power (nearly 30 percent) and hydroelectric power (43 percent), not fossil fuels (9.5 percent). To that point: The promise could be perceived by some divestment critics as a mere symbolic move to appease protestors.

Even as Western cities such as Washington, D.C., Stockholm, and Berlin continue to divest pension funds of oil, evidence suggests retirees are not fond of divestment.

A survey on divestment conducted by business advisory firm FTI Consulting in May found most respondents outright opposed the idea of selling off oil assets. In fact, they did not want their pensions politicized.

Nearly 88 percent of respondents in Texas, for example, told researchers they would actively reject divestment. The same view holds true among 77 percent of respondents in Pennsylvania, as well as 72 percent of retirees in New York, who think divestment is a raw deal for public pensions.

Environmentalist groups such as 350.org, which was started by Bill McKibben, have noted that 500 institutions representing over $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of fossil fuel divestment thus far. Yet critics have suggested those numbers are skewed wildly out of proportion.

Critics peg the real number of assets jettisoned by divesting institutions at $125 billion, which is well short of the amount 350.org claims. The $3.4 trillion number, Forbes magazine claimed in December, is the total number of assets held by those institutions, not the actual number of fossil fuel divested assets.

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