THE BLOG
09/22/2014 12:47 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2014

Fossil Fuel Divestment Makes UN Climate Summit a Success

The United Nations climate summit in New York, where I'm writing from this week, is already a success. With Rockefeller Brothers Fund announcing this week that they're divesting entirely from fossil fuels, pulling $860 million of RBF funds out of fossil fuel stocks, the mood in New York City is palpably positive.

The power and poignancy of an oil-started Rockefeller institution moving away from fossil fuels is not lost on anyone. Add to this momentum, billionaire Tom Steyer announced his divestment from fossil fuels during the climate march this past weekend.

These courageous commitments by RBF and Tom Steyer join another $50 billion that's already been pledged as part of the divestment movement. And there's even a new website launched this week for individuals and philanthropists -- www.divestinvest.org, where I pledged -- for anyone in America to get on board.

RBF and Steyer are not outliers, nor are they making unsound financial decisions. In fact, investors from across Wall Street -- totaling $24 trillion in assets -- called for carbon pricing this month, because they recognize that the externalities are too costly to ignore.

Irrespective of nation-state movement on climate change commitments, since they've been historically sluggish anyway, investors small and large are moving their money and moving the market. This sea change in financial activism may well prove a tipping point that will move policymakers towards carbon pricing.

It's about time. With 2013 breaking historical records regarding greenhouse gas emissions, we have little time to act. Investors get it. It's risky business to continue to invest in fossil fuels. Now it's time for policymakers, prime ministers and presidents to get it as well.

Michael Shank, PhD, associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.