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How we won the camapign to divest the Common Retirement Fund

2012  Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein’s Do the Math Tour showed the world that the fossil fuel industry already held existing stockpiles of coal, oil, and gas that, if used, would blow through our carbon budget five times over. The resulting film galvanized local groups at campuses and in cities and states across North America to demand divestment from fossil fuels. The fossil fuel divestment movement is born, taking its cue from earlier activist traditions, particularly the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

October 2012 Superstorm Sandy strikes New York State devastating communities and causing over $70 billion in damages. Years later communities are still rebuilding. Shortly thereafter, divestment campaigns start up in New York focused on divesting city and state pension funds and university and college endowments. 

December 2013: Divestment campaign have first meeting with State Comptroller’s Office.

March 2014: 350NYC organizes rally and deliver 3,500 signatures in support of divestment to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli at his NYC office.

September 2014: The People’s Climate March in New York City saw an astounding 400,000 people take to the streets and over 2,000 actions around the world, demanding climate action including divestment from fossil fuels. 181 institutions and cities are committed to divest over $50 billion USD in assets.

February 2015: As part of Global divestment day, campaign holds press conference at State Capitol and rally at Comptroller’s Albany office. Joined by NYS Nurses Association. Rally also held in NYC. 

May 2015: Senator Liz Krueger and  Assemblymember Felix Ortiz  introduce 1st iteration of the divestment bill called the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act. 

 December 2015: The Paris Climate Agreement is signed, Climate groups urge DiNapoli to support divestment in his remarks in Paris.

January 2016: Divestment is featured at State of Climate Rally in conjunction with the State of the State Address in Albany.

February 2016; Divestment campaign holds statewide lobby day in Albany along with State Assembly and Senate forum on divestment.

March 2016:  According to a new report, New York State’s pension fund would have an additional $5.3bn to give to its retired employees if it had divested from fossil fuel companies and put that money into clean energy. 

October 2016: An expanded coalition of groups renew the call for the New York City and State Comptrollers and leaders to divest their pension funds. The website is launched.

October 2016: Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz host a roundtable on divestment at Baruch College along with NYS Comptroller’s staff, urging swift action by the fund.

April 2017: New York’s most iconic church, Riverside Church, divests from fossil fuels.

April 2017: reveals that the state pension fund has over $400 million invested in the companies behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline. Earlier the NYC Mayor and Comptroller spoke publicly against the pipeline and its builders.

May 2017: Lobby Day held a state Capitol during the Global Divestment Movement week of action, New Yorkers join with others in 50 countries urging divesting from fossil fuels, hosting rallies, lobby days and forums across the state.


June 2017: More than 220 elected officials from 50 counties across New York State released a letter urging Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to drop the most dangerous and polluting fossil fuel companies from New York State’s Common Retirement Fund.


October 2017: To recognize the 5th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, climate activists and communities organize the 5000 strong Sandy5 march calling on leaders to act including divestment of state and city pension funds. 


December 2017: Governor Cuomo announces desire to divest the state pension fund and a plan to launch a decarbonization advisory panel. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer announces intention to bring proposal to pension board trustees overseeing the city pension funds to decarbonize and divest from fossil fuels. Activists rejoice and see this as the beginning of real action by the state and city funds. 

January 2018: New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Mayor Bill DeBlasio and trustees formally announce commitment to divest the city’s pension funds from fossil fuels within 5 years and an intention to sue Big Oil for climate damages and costs. 

January 2018: Troy Area Labor Council passes resolution in support of state divestment followed by Albany Area Labor Council.

February 2018: Comptroller DiNapoli and Governor Cuomo establish a Decarbonization Panel to come up with recommendations on how the fund can divest from fossil fuels and reduce climate risk to the fund.

September 2018: Following the divestment commitment by New York City, C40 and the Mayors of NYC and London launch the Divest Invest Forum to support big cities in pursuing fossil fuel divestment.  

October 2018: According to an analysis performed by Corporate Knights and commissioned by, the New York State Common Retirement Fund would be an estimated $22.2 billion richer had it decided to divest its fossil fuel stocks ten years ago, 

January 2019: The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (S2126/A1536) is reintroduced by Senator Krueger and Assembly Member Ortiz.

February 2019: Divestment lobby day at state Capitol.

April 2019: The Decarbonization Advisory Panel releases its recommendations urging overhaul of the fund’s investment strategy and new standards to reduce climate risk. 

May 2019: Senator Liz Krueger, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Assembly Assistant Speaker Félix W. Ortiz, along with other Senators, hold a hearing on divesting the New York State Common Retirement Fund from fossil fuel holdings.

June 2019: Comptroller DiNapoli releases his first Climate Action Plan including a commitment to double funds in sustainable investments to $20 billion. The Climate Action Plan is a follow-up strategy to the recommendations of the Decarbonization Advisory Panel.

September 2019: The world’s largest mobilization for climate action is held in dozens of  countries around the world. The Climate Strike in New York City is the largest with over 250,000 people marching in the streets demanding climate justice, including divestment from fossil fuels. 

December  2019: The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act is revised and strengthened by Senator Krueger and Assembly Member Ortiz, addressing key concerns of legislators and Comptroller. 

January 2020: The DivestNY Coalition moves to gather new Assembly and Senate co-sponsors for the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, securing 100 sponsors in the coming months. 

January 2020: Comptroller DiNapoli announces review of all companies in the Fund that earn a minimum of 10% of their revenue from thermal coal production. He states that “if a particular company is not ready to move away from its reliance on thermal coal mining for profits, we may divest our holdings in that company.” 


February 2020: Extinction Rebellion holds sit in in support of divestment action at the Albany office of state comptroller; 11 arrested.

March 2020: Days after COVID-19 lockdown, DivestNY holds first virtual lobby day with state legislators.

March 2020: releases analysis showing massive losses to the fund by holding onto unprofitable tar sands and fracking companies. Losses top $1.5 billion on just 16 companies.

April 2020: New York Youth Climate Leaders hold a massive virtual lobby day with meetings with dozens of legislators urging further climate action including sponsorship of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.

April 2020: With face to face meetings not possible, the coalition sends a video message to all NYS legislators to urge them to join their colleagues which now number 33 in the Senate and 50 in the Assembly to sponsor the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.

May 2020: Cornell University, after a long running campaign by Climate Justice Cornell, announces it will divest its endowment from fossil fuels. 

May 2020: New York Youth Climate Leaders (NY2CL) organized a socially distanced chalking event for the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act at the Capital building in Albany.

May 2020: DivestNY releases “Too Little Too Late” Report as a response to the New York State Common Retirement Fund Climate Action Plan 2019.

June 2020: As protests rise up in cities across the USA, DivestNY coalition issues a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter saying there can be no climate justice without racial justice.

July 2020: Comptroller DiNapoli announces that the Common Retirement Fund has divested from 22 coal companies following its review. Advocates thank Comptroller DiNapoli and urge faster action on the remaining billions in fossil fuel investments. 

September 2020: 1100+ Academics call for New York legislators to #DivestNY. Academics, scientists and researchers from universities, colleges and institutes across New York and around the United States write to New York State legislators, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, asking them to urgently pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.

November 2020: DivestNY announces 10 new member groups join coalition as coalition’s campaign continues to grow in breadth and depth. 

November 2020: Incoming New York State legislators voice support for the The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act and intention to co-sponsor when they assume their seats in January 2021.

December 2020: DivestNY members rejoice as New York State Comptroller announces plan to decarbonize the fund by 2040 and divest from the riskiest oil and gas companies. Senator Krueger commits to withdraw the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.

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