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Board of $18bn San Francisco pension fund debates fossil fuel divestment

Discussion follows pressure from city’s political leadership

Potentially the largest fossil fuel divestment by a major institutional investor took a step forward yesterday (February 19) when the board of $18bn (€13.1bn) San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) debated the issue following pressure from city legislators.

Although the results of the meeting weren’t available at press time, the special session was convened to discuss an internal report on fossil fuel divestment in what is being seen as a step towards divestment.

The meeting followed a unanimous vote in April last year by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the legislative branch of the City and County of San Francisco, that called on the fund to divest.

The resolution, introduced by City Supervisor John Avalos, calls for SFERS to sell all of its holdings in around 200 of the largest fossil fuel producers over the next five years and immediately cease acquiring any new fossil investments. “Divestment is an important part of our city response to climate change,” said Avalos at the time.This led to divestment first being discussed at a fund board meeting in October last year – out of which came the request for a more detailed report. The fund, which serves more than 53,000 active and retired employees of the City and County of San Francisco, has around $600m tied up in fossil fuel stocks. This includes $112m in ExxonMobil, $60m in Chevron, $26m in Shell and $17m in Occidental Petroleum.

San Francisco is the third – and largest – US city (the others are Ithaca and Seattle) to push for fossil fuel divestment. The SFERS board is chaired by real estate executive Victor Makras and includes Leona Bridges, former Managing Director at Barclays Global Investors.

The meeting featured testimony from Brett Fleishman, Senior Analyst at divestment campaign 350.org, who cited the recent divestment of 24 coal and oil sands companies by Norway’s Storebrand.

Meanwhile, the second annual student Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence will be hosted by San Francisco State University and the Divestment Student Network from April 4-6.