Today, after more than a year of increasing pressure from climate activists, investors, legislators, and thought leaders, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, in his highly-anticipated annual letter, announced a sweeping new set of policies which aim to put climate change and sustainability at the center of BlackRock’s business model. BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with almost $7 trillion in assets under management.
In response to today’s announcement, Diana Best, Senior Strategist for the Sunrise Project which is a core partner of the BlackRock’s Big Problem campaign, said: “BlackRock’s new initiatives match the size of the crisis we’re seeing in 2020 and are the direct result of an outpouring of pressure from the global climate movement. BlackRock beginning its shift of capital out of fossil fuels, including today’s divestment of coal in its actively managed funds, is a fantastic start and instantly raises the bar for competitors such as Vanguard and State Street Global Advisors. We will be looking for additional leadership from the company in, as Larry Fink put it, ‘fundamentally reshaping finance to deal with climate change,’ including additional shifts of capital out of fossil fuels.”
As one of the largest shareholders in most companies, an important litmus test for BlackRock’s new climate leadership will be how it votes in the 2020 shareholder season on the many climate resolutions that have already been filed, including at other major financial institutions.
Jeanne Martin, campaign manager at ShareAction, said: “BlackRock’s coal divestment decision is yet another significant blow to the already dying market, yet major banks like Barclays continue to prop up coal-heavy companies. If BlackRock is serious about its commitment to phase out thermal coal, it should use its voting rights to get major coal financiers to do the same. Larry Fink talks a lot about companies’ purpose, but there are questions left unanswered about what BlackRock’s own purpose is, and how its stewardship delivers the social, environmental, and financial performance that its clients are looking for.”
A 2019 report from Majority Action showcased BlackRock’s abysmal voting record and lack of leadership when it found that if BlackRock and Vanguard had voted in favor, sixteen critical climate resolutions would have passed at US companies in 2019.
Last week, a coalition of leading climate, youth, and Indigenous organizations launched a major new mobilization, Stop the Money Pipeline, that will pressure banks, insurance companies, and asset managers including BlackRock to stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation and start respecting human rights and Indigenous sovereignty.
Sierra Club campaign representative Ben Cushing said: “The financial giants propping up the industries driving us towards climate disaster can no longer escape public scrutiny. As the biggest financial institution in the world, BlackRock’s announcement today is a major step in the right direction and a testament to the power of public pressure calling for climate action. But BlackRock will continue to be the world’s largest investor in coal, oil, and gas. It is time to turn off the money pipeline to dirty fossil fuels for good. BlackRock should expand on its commitments and other financial institutions should follow suit.”
Today’s announcement, however, does not indicate how BlackRock will address issues related to Indigenous rights or deforestation, the second-largest driver of climate change.
Moira Birss, Finance Campaign Director at Amazon Watch, said: “This announcement is a major step in the right direction for BlackRock. However, It still leaves questions about how it plans to address the fact that it is the world’s biggest investor in deforestation. Will deforestation risk be part of its new engagement and voting priorities? What about Indigenous rights? The Amazon fires last fall and the wildfires in Australia today show the immense risk to the climate, forests, and Indigenous peoples that deforestation-risk commodities pose. Consistently bad actors like Brazilian beef giant JBS won’t change without strong, concrete action from asset managers like BlackRock.”