New York State Pension Fund divests from seven oil sands companies

Monday April 12, 2021

First state pension fund in the USA to join oil sands investor exodus

(New York, NY /Toronto, ON)—The New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced today that the massive $246 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund completed a review of its oil sands holdings and has divested from seven oil sands companies. The companies divested include: Imperial Oil, Canadian Natural Resources, Husky Energy,, MEG Energy Corp., Athabasca Oil Corporation, Cenovus Energy, and Japan Petroleum Exploration.

“Alberta's oilpatch is the dirtiest of the dirtiest--there's no need for this crude, and no place for it on a planet serious about the climate crisis. Kudos to New York’s Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for making it clear that you can't build your retirement on tarsands,” said Bill McKibben, 350.org founder. 

The companies were found to present too great a financial risk to the fund due to the lack of transition plans and alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement goals. This follows the  groundbreaking announcement in December 2020, when Comptroller DiNapoli detailed a plan to review the fund’s portfolio of fossil fuel companies and divest from the riskiest companies by 2025 as well as achieve net-zero emissions by invested companies by 2040. 

“The first state pension fund in North America to divest from tar sands is no small matter. This is only the beginning as other North American pension funds are increasingly recognizing that the tar sands is a risky investment both for pensioners and our planet,” said Richard Brooks with Stand.earth. “It’s time to pivot to clean, safe renewable energy. That’s where the smart money, led by New York, is headed.”

Today’s news is the latest in a series of high profile investors exiting the oil sands. Last year,  Sweden’s central bank and Norway’s sovereign-wealth fund dropped oil sands investments, BlackRock announced oil sands companies would be excluded from one of its major funds and insurance giant The Hartford announced it would no longer invest or insure Alberta oil.

“As a growing number of influential institutional investors around the world pull the plug on the tar sands, Canadian pension funds are becoming climate laggards. Canada's ten largest public pension funds hold nearly CA$1.7 billion worth of shares in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. alone,” said Adam Scott, Director of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health. “It’s abundantly clear that ‘engaging’ companies whose core business is extracting the most carbon-intensive oil in the world is not going to cut it—either for a climate-safe future or growing Canadian pension savings.”

Capital expenditures in the tar sands have dropped by more than 64.6% from 2014 through 2019.  In recent years oil majors like Shell, Statoil, ConocoPhillips and even Koch Industries have left the tar sands altogether and in February of this year ExxonMobil cut its tar sands reserves by 98%. Last year alone saw over C$14 billion stranded assets in the oil sands. Write downs included C$2.8 billion by Suncor,  C$1.13 billion by Teck, C$9.3 billion by Total, and C$1.2 billion by Imperial Oil. The US-based Global Energy Monitor recently reported an additional US$32 billion in oil and gas pipelines are at risk of becoming stranded assets in Canada. 

Oil sands fuel is among the more carbon-intensive fuels in the world. Industry likes to point out that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per barrel of oil produced has declined, but the sector's absolute emissions have climbed each year. Oil sands fuel remains more carbon-intensive than the average barrel worldwide and is the fastest-growing source of emissions in Canada

As investors flee the oil sands, renewables are seeing an uptick in growth. Beginning with the prior collapse of oil prices in 2015 and 2016, Canada’s oil sector shed jobs, while the clean energy sector grew jobs. By 2017, Canada’s clean energy sector grew faster than the rest of the country’s economy, creating 298,000 jobs – nearly 100,000 more jobs than the total in mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction combined.

“DivestNY is committed to getting NY’s public pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. It is wrong to be invested in companies that are destroying the planet, and it is also financially unwise, considering that the world is transitioning to renewables, which is causing fossil fuel values to steadily decline," said Jordan Dale, Divest NY Coalition. "We are proud of Comptroller DiNapoli for the Common Retirement Fund’s rigorous review of its tar sands holdings and for his ongoing commitment to protect NY retirees and taxpayers from risky fossil fuel investments.” 

The growth in renewables is drawing investors - including the New York State fund, which previously announced a commitment to invest $20 billion in climate solutions including renewables. Last month, New York City announced a tripling of investments in climate solutions, ahead of schedule, reaching $6 billion.  

Over 1,300 institutions with more than $14 trillion in assets have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment. These include pension funds, universities and colleges, faith and philanthropic organizations and cities and countries.

“It is wonderful news that one of the largest pension funds is divesting from tar sands, the world's dirtiest fuel, said Sally Courtright, The Climate Reality Project: Capital Region, NY Chapter. "We await a similar announcement from New York's Teachers' Pension fund in the near future.” 

The DivestNY coalition is a multigenerational, multiracial effort composed of 40+ groups. The coalition launched after Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast in 2012, costing nearly $70 billion in damages. With recent victories at the city and state level, the coalition will next turn its sights to the $125 Billion NYS Teachers Retirement System, the 7th largest in the country to divest. 

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For reference:

New York State Comptroller December 2020 climate action announcement

DivestNY coalitionMedia release from December announcement 

Backgrounder on Dec announcement including details of reviews and companies 

Additional Quotes:

"We commend New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for his leadership and his continued commitment to divesting the New York State Common Retirement Pension with the completion of his review of its tar sands holdings. We hope that the New York State Teachers' Retirement System will commit to doing the same for the Teachers' Retirement Pension. As the climate crisis continues to accelerate, and as fossil fuels become more and more obsolete everyday, divestment is absolutely necessary for the protection of life on Earth as well as economic stability for New York’s Taxpayers and Pension Holders." - Matt Oill, New York Youth Climate Leaders

“Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE) would like to thank Comptroller DiNapoli for his continued commitment for divestment. Sheridan Hollow is an environmental justice community that has been polluted for over 100 years by the burning of fossil fuels. A transition to renewable energy will reduce pollution in my community and help lessen the impacts of the climate crisis that disportanitally impact communities like mine.” - Merton Simpson, Co-Chair of SHARE.

“Time is rapidly running out to end the use of fossil fuels and to save life on our planet as we know it. It is heartening that State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is taking action not only to reduce the threat of global warming but to protect taxpayers and retirees. We hope that the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System and other pension fund managers will follow his lead.” - Mark Dunlea, PAUSE, the 350-affiliate in Albany

“NYS Comptroller DiNapoli continues to show exceptional climate leadership and a commitment to transparency with today’s announcement. As climate change is accelerating and time is running out, swift actions like these to cut financial support to some of the most polluting fossil fuel companies are exactly what we need to combat the crisis. The NYS Common Retirement Fund’s divestment process should become a blueprint for other pension funds worldwide to follow, but especially for the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System and the New Jersey Public Pension Fund. NYSTRS and NJ, it’s your turn.” - Barbara Pal, Vice-President, 350NJ-Rockland

“Comptroller DiNapoli, now having divested from polluting coal and tar sand companies, is thankfully well on his way to fulfilling his commitment to rid the Common Retirement Fund from ruinous fossil fuel investments by 2025.  I hope that his leadership sets an example this proxy season and, closer to home, that this is the loud school bell that finally awakens the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System to adjust its portfolio before it loses any more money.” - Dorian Fulvio, 350NYC 

“Money talks and bullshit walks, as they say. We’re thrilled that Comptroller DiNapoli is moving New York’s funds out of tar sands as the pension funds review and divestment proceeds through the fossil fuel industry. It’s time to protect the planet and retiree’s pensions, and New York is moving forward.” - Rachel Rivera, a Sandy survivor and member of New York Communities for Change.

“Thank you Comptroller DiNapoli for your continuing efforts to divest from climate destroying fossil fuels. And thank you for divesting to protect the pension fund for our state employees. We hope the New York State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS) will take your lead and protect New York’s teachers pension fund from losses due to risky fossil fuel investments. Our teachers deserve a secure pension too.” Ruth Foster, NY Climate Advocacy Project

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Media contacts: 

Ziona Eyob, Canadian Communications Manager, canadamedia@stand.earth, +1 604 757 7279 (Pacific Time)