“It does not make sense to pursue ambitious local climate protection goals while at the same time worsening global warming through the financial assets the city invests in” – this was a key message from Clara Herrmann, Green member of the Berlin state parliament and spokesperson for budget issues, in her speech in favour of the motion to divest Berlin from fossil fuels. And it was successful: with votes from all five parties in the parliament, the state of Berlin decided to withdraw public funds from companies "whose business model is contrary to the goal of climate neutrality”.
This mainly affects the pension reserves of civil servants and state employees, which amount to around €750 million. Until now a part of this fund had been invested in fossil fuel companies such as Total, RWE or E.on. A financial services company will now be developing a new set of investment guidelines for Berlin ready for the end of this year.
“This is a huge success and shows once more what Greens can achieve on the local level”, adds Michael Schäfer, another Berlin MP and spokesperson for climate and energy for the parliamentary group, who worked on the issue. Just a week before, Stockholm announced that it was also divesting its shares from fossil fuels, as did the city of Oslo some months before. In all three of these European capitals, it was Greens that pushed for divestment on the political level.
But of course, this is only one part of the story. In Berlin, the campaign to divest was initiated almost two years ago by civil society activists. They were extremely creative: they built a ‘wall of fossil fuels’, projected their demands onto the city hall building, conducted marches through central Berlin and organised divestment flashmobs in city council meetings.
Soon, the Berlin Greens and the civil society activists began to work together. Their first success was a report by the parliament’s commission of enquiry on “New energy for Berlin”, which called for divestment by November 2015. It took another half a year until the environment committee unanimously voted for a divestment motion tabled by the Greens. The state government, made up of a grand coalition of social democrats and conservatives, then took this up and put it to vote in the plenary, with all parties voting in favour.
The movement to divest Berlin is a perfect example of how civil society and institutionalised politics can work together in order to achieve the goal of divesting an institution – in this case, a municipality. In this example, the Greens were still able to form alliances in parliament despite being in opposition. As a result, the pensions of Berlin’s state employees will very soon no longer be invested in fossil fuel companies, who will no longer profit from wrecking the climate.
The most important question today: which capital is next?