More than 100 institutions controlling $US800 billion ($1.09 trillion) in funds worldwide have opted to make new divestments of at least some of their fossil fuel assets in the 10 weeks running up to the Paris climate summit, according to campaign groups 350.org and Divest-Invest.
The tally brings to $US3.4 trillion the amount of funds under management by firms that support at least a partial sell-off of their holdings of coal, oil or other fossil fuels. The latest to sign up range from the City of Melbourne to the parliament of the summit hosts, France.
"People are voting with their wallets," Amanda McKenzie, chief executive of the Climate Council, told Fairfax Media. "The divestment movement worldwide has grown at breakneck speed illustrating the appetite for action on climate change from citizens, cities, businesses and institutions."
The groups launched a "Divest for Paris" plan in September when the tally of institutions agreeing to cut exposure to the fossil fuel sector totalled about 400 firms with $US2.6 trillion in assets. The huge figures do not represent the size of the investments actually sold off, only the scale of funds that they manage.
"This the greatest challenge of our time," Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said. "The momentum of this campaign is accelerating day by day."
"There is a moral imperative to save the planet, and to do so, we need to end the fossil fuel era now," Mr Heintz said.
The economics were also stacking up against fossil fuel investments as nations prepare to curb carbon emissions, with 60-80 per cent of remaining reserves of such fuels had to remain in the ground if global warming is to remain with 2 degrees, he said.
According to the groups, Australian institutions involved in the divestment have funds under management of $5.5 billion, or less than 2 per cent of the total. Melbourne City Council is one of 14 councils that are reducing their fossil fuel investments.
Among the big movers in the run-up to Paris was Allianz, Europe's largest insurance company. It divested €630 million ($915 million) of their holdings in coal while announcing plans to channel €4 billion into wind energy projects over the next six months.
"Divestment represents a simple equation, moving money away from the problem to the solution," Ms McKenzie said.
Commodity prices have been hammered, particularly in the past year. The divestment campaign has helped to undermine investors' appetite for coal and other fossil fuels by turning a spotlight on the likely future constraints on industries producing greenhouse gases resulting from such global events as the Paris summit.
The dramatic plunge in commodity prices, though, is viewed by analysts as more a response to weaker-than-expected demand, particularly in China, which is by far the largest consumer of raw materials such as coal and iron ore.
Earlier this week, the Reserve Bank of Australia released its latest gauge of commodity prices, showing the plunge had accelerated in November.
Preliminary figures show export prices for Australia's three biggest commodities – iron ore, coking coal and thermal coal – dived 4.3 per cent last month alone to be down 23.4 per cent over the past year.
As the chart below shows, the gauge is now well below the lowest level during the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, and a fresh indication that state and federal budgets can expect further squeezes on their revenues from mining.
The divestment campaign, meanwhile, has cheered this week's announcement in Paris that 38 nations had signed a communique planning to phase out subsidies for fossil fuel.
Australia, though, opted not to sign up, with the Turnbull government saying the definition of a subsidy used by the organisers – led by New Zealand – was too broad and would have unfairly disadvantaged farmers and miners.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later said the document contained a "rather gratuitous reference to an IMF report which goes much much further than inefficient fuel subsidies".
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