The fossil fuel divestment movement campaigns for removing investments from fossil fuel companies as a strategy to combat climate change. It is a bottom-up movement, largely based in university student groups, although it has rapidly spread to other institutions. Divestment has been criticised for its naiveté and hard-line stance and dismissed as having little impact on fossil fuel finance. I analyse the impact of divestment through reviewing academic and grey literature, complemented by interviews with activists and financial actors, using a theoretical framework that draws on social movement theory. While the direct impacts of divestment are small, the indirect impacts, in terms of public discourse shift, are significant. Divestment has put questions of finance and climate change on the agenda and played a part in changing discourse around the legitimacy, reputation and viability of the fossil fuel industry. This cultural impact contributed to changes in the finance industry through new demands by shareholders and investors and to changes in political discourse, such as rethinking the notion of ‘fiduciary duty.’ Finally, divestment had significant impact on its participants in terms of empowerment and played a part in the revitalisation of the environmental movement in the UK and elsewhere.
Find out more about our project on ‘Reorienting investments and divesting from fossil fuel assets‘.