Four German states already planning divestment. Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen could follow soon.

Tine Langkamp describes the German wing of the international divestment movement: which states plan to divest and what their approach to divestment looks like. It also shows where the gaps are and what still needs to be done to achieve success.

People's Climate March / Silent Climate Parade, Berlin

Berlin voted to divest from fossil fuels in 2016 (Photo by Tony Webster, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)


After three years of divestment campaigning in Germany we’ve seen remarkable growth of the movement and some strong wins. The cities Münster and Stuttgart have been the first cities to divest and ditch fossil fuels from their pension funds. The Protestant Church Hessen-Nassau was the first religious institution to follow our call for divestment. The pension fund for the press decided to divest from coal. We have over 24 local Fossil Free campaigns who keep bringing climate change and the need to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground on the political agenda. The German fossil fuel divestment movement has been pushing the public debate and built powerful partnerships. And this is why divestment has reached entire federal states, one of them being Berlin. This is a huge success.

Words on paper must now become decisive action.

First to act was North Rhine Westphalia with a ruling in the state parliament in January 2016. Baden Württemberg followed in May (governing coalition contract), Berlin in July (city parliament ruling) and lastly Rheinland-Pfalz in September (state parliament ruling). The divestment movement can celebrate these successes due to an ever-increasing public pressure fired by creative and courageous fossil free groups, as well as the strategic and forward-looking actions of some state politicians.

The exact wording of the parliamentary rulings, however, is extremely variable. How rigorously the new investment guidelines are applied will only become apparent in the next months. Will all five states actually end all investment in coal, oil and gas? Or will there still be loopholes left for investment in fossil fuels? Will only the pension funds become climate-friendly or will the decisions also affect business holdings and loans? The following text will give you more information about the divestment policies of both the individual states and of the central German government.

North Rhine-Westphalia: According to an investigation by correctiv.org, NRW has 81 million euros in climate-damaging investments, putting it in second place under the states. Following the ruling in the state parliament in January 2016, the next step is the exact formulation of new “sustainable, climate-friendly and socially responsible” investment criteria for the pension funds of its public servants and judges. This should come into effect by 2018. The pension schemes will be unified into a new pension fund worth 10.3 billion euros.

Baden-Württemberg is (still) the state in first place for its climate-killing investments. The two pension funds, covering the pensions of its public servants, invest at least 190 million euros in businesses earning their money with coal, oil and gas. In August 2016, however, the state ministry of finance announced that both funds, together totalling 5.3 billion euros, would withdraw their investments from fossil fuel. Baden-Württemberg also stressed in their coalition contract from May of 2016 both their wish for a “divestment-strategy” for the state bank of Baden-Württemberg as well as a “Corporate Government Codex” for state investment.

Berlin: Fossil Free Berlin fought hard for the divestment ruling adopted in July 2016. This success shows the group’s staying power. All five parties in the city parliament voted to withdraw public monies from organisations “whose business model contradicts the aim of climate neutrality”. In Berlin the decision affects the state pension funds valued at around 750 million euros. According to the Berlin senate, 78 million euros of these funds are invested in stocks and include, among others, shares in RWE, E.ON and Total. A financial consultant should develop and implement the new investment guidelines by 1/1/2017.

Rheinland-Pfalz: At the beginning of September 2016 a motion put forward by the Green Party set the divestment ball rolling. According to the Allgemeinen newspaper, the 5.29 billion euros in the state pension funds consist primarily of debts plus a small amount of cash. A divestment ruling would then in this case only become relevant in the future, preventing any new investment in coal, oil or gas and ensuring an ethical and ecological investment policy. But also here, the new investment criteria must first be formulated. It remains to be seen how stringent or lax they become and whether climate-killing investments will be consistently excluded.

For these states, divestment is still in the future

Saxony-Anhalt: according to the Correctiv investigation, the state invests about 16 million euros in climate-damaging firms like Total and BP or the Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. An inquiry by the Left party on the 15th of August 2016 shed more light on the confused investment politics. A debate on the theme of divestment was initiated but, up to now, profit has proved far more important for the state than any ethical or ecological considerations.

Even following the widely circulated Correctiv investigation the state parliament responded to the Left’s inquiry with a refusal to consider stronger divestment criteria. The state president Reiner Haseloff from the Christian Democrats apparently wants to reconsider the state’s investments, but before it could even come to a binding divestment ruling, several hurdles and opposition within the party would have to be overcome. In the democratic process the next steps would need to be: an examination by the ministry of finance of the current investment strategy, followed by a discussion of the topic in the state parliament’s capital market committee. It won’t be until the spring of 2017 that the financial market committee will be able to start thinking about divestment.

Bremen: the Fossil Free Bremen group is doing everything in its power to enable divestment in their state. They want climate-damaging investments to become a thing of the past as soon as possible. They have now achieved a remarkable partial success: just a few days ago (on the 24th of September 2016), the Green party adopted a divestment policy at their state conference. Fossil Free Bremen has now found an ally for its demands. A divestment motion could possibly even be put forward this year in the state parliament.

And what is happening on the federal level?

Not a lot. Since 2007, 10 percent of the federal pension funds have been invested in Eurostoxx 50, and in 2008 the funds of the Employment Ministry were added. Eurostoxx 50 includes, with Total, Repsol and ENI, three corporations whose profits primarily come from fossil fuels. According to a inquiry by the Green party and analysts from the Carbon Disclosure Project, this means that national government invests around 112 million euros in fossil fuel. That is absolutely incompatible with the aims of the Paris climate agreement. For this reason we demand further divestment and the fastest possible adoption of rigorous climate-friendly investment criteria.

Written by Tine Langkamp and translated by Urszula Papajak.

This article has been republished with permission from GoFossilFree.org. For the German version, click here.

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Energiewende Team

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1 Comment

  1. Stephen Ferguson says

    Meanwhile, along the lines of the last paragraph, the European Central Bank is dumbly investing untold billions into fossil fuels in complete disregard of the EU’s signing up to the Paris agreement…

    “The European Central Bank’s (ECB) quantitative easing programme is systematically investing billions of euros in the oil, gas and auto industries, according to a new analysis.

    The ECB has already purchased €46bn (£39bn) of corporate bonds since last June in a bid to boost flagging eurozone growth rates, a figure that some analysts expect to rise to €125bn by next September. On Thursday the bank said it would extend the scheme until 2018.

    But an EU pledge to cut its carbon emissions by at least 80% by mid-century could be undermined by the asset purchasing scheme”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/09/ecbs-quantitative-easing-programme-investing-billions-in-fossil-fuels

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