New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its fossil fuel investments.
The fund -- which is the third largest pension fund in the U.S. with a value of $194.3 billion and more than one million members, retirees, and beneficiaries -- decided that selling off its “riskiest” oil and gas stocks is the right action to take due to growing climate concerns. The state’s final goal is to completely eliminate all carbon polluters from its investment portfolio by 2040.
With a stroke of New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s pen, a clear message was sent that the smart money is on getting out of the fossil fuel game now rather than later.
“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday morning.
“Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investment’s long-term value at risk.”
The shape of things to come?
The Paris Climate Agreement is coming up on its fifth anniversary, but its last couple of years have been a tug of war. Once President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, tech executives from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others came together to voice their concerns. Meanwhile, the world’s five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies fought against governmental measures to curb emissions.
While the consumption side of fossil fuels hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 20 years, renewable energy -- hydroelectric power, geothermal, solar, and wind -- is getting closer in the energy sector’s rear view mirror. At last count, the renewable option was generating 17.6 percent of all electric power.
New York may be the first to come down this hard on fossil fuel, but other states have been working on similar moves. As of late April, 15 U.S. states and territories had taken either executive or legislative action toward a 100 percent clean energy future -- one that includes clean electricity policies and economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution-reduction programs.
What’s the energy future for consumers?
Even more important is the consumer side of the energy consumption equation. While the decrease in gas prices has American consumers moving toward buying more SUVs and trucks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps pushing for exponentially less polluting and more efficient vehicles.
At home, clean energy, such as solar power, is also getting the reputation as a more environmentally friendly option.
“Solar energy is most efficient in terms of environmental impact, whereas coal and natural gas are more efficient by reliable applications,” writes ConsumerAffairs’ Kathryn Parkman in her review of how certain energy resources impact consumers in terms of efficiency, cost, and long-term availability.
And, as for cost? “Given the consumption rate of fossil fuels, the world is reaching a point where there will be little choice in the matter. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are extracted at a much faster rate than they're being replenished. Because of this, some fossil fuels, like coal, are on track to be more expensive than solar within the next decade,” Parkman said.