October 20, 2021
New York City is among the first cities in the nation to commit to a net zero emissions goal in their public pension funds; first city in the nation to set an ambition of reaching net zero emissions by as early as 2040
Goal to double investments in climate change solutions to over $8 billion by 2025 and achieve a total of $37 billion in investments by 2035 across three pension funds in line with a total of $50 billion in all pension fund investments
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, along with trustees of three of the City’s pension funds, today announced these funds have adopted a commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in their investment portfolios by 2040. This includes a goal to double investments in climate change solutions, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and green real estate, to over $8 billion by 2025 and achieve a total of over $37 billion in climate solutions investments by 2035 across the three funds, in line with achieving the Mayor’s State of the City goal of $50 billion in total pension fund investments in climate change solutions by 2035.
The goal and plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, which were proposed jointly by the Mayor and Comptroller, addresses the vast financial, environmental and social risks that climate change poses to the funds and planet, will further align the funds’ investments with the accelerating transition towards a low carbon economy, and help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change. New York City is among the first cities in the nation to commit to a net zero emissions goal in their public pension funds, and is the first city in the nation to set an ambition of reaching net zero emissions by as early as 2040. The three New York City pension funds have also adopted the Net Zero Asset Owner Commitment of the Paris Aligned Investment Initiative (PAII), a former partner of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC’s) Race to Zero campaign, joining asset owners and investors globally in developing best practices to achieve net zero emissions.
“Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City, and we must do everything in our power to confront this crisis head on,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “In my State of the City address in January, I urged our pension funds to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and to increase investments in climate change solutions to $50 billion by 2035. Today’s vote by the trustees will help the pension system meet these goals and ensure we have a livable planet for future generations to come.”
“We must act now and act boldly on climate change to protect the long-term interests of our beneficiaries, the sustainability of our pension investments and the stability and growth of the global economy,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Every year, the crisis of climate change becomes more stark and immediate. Achieving net zero emissions is an imperative for investors, businesses and government to maintain economic viability as well as livable conditions on the planet. As fiduciaries, we must mitigate the tremendous systemic risk that climate change poses to our pension funds and, to do this, we must ensure our investments support limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. I thank the trustees for their adopting this commitment.”
The New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) and New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) voted to approve a commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2040 today and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) is expected to move forward on a vote imminently. The goal is accompanied by a Climate Action Plan that outlines key elements of the commitment including (1) Increasing climate change solutions investments that achieve competitive market rate risk-adjusted returns, with an initial goal of doubling such investments in the portfolio to over $8 billion by 2025 and achieving a total of over $37 billion by 2035; (2) Developing and updating interim targets for reducing portfolio greenhouse gas emissions beginning with a target for 2030 or earlier using Scope 1 and 2 emissions and eventually including Scope 3 emissions; (3) Considering climate change risk and opportunity and net zero alignment in the evaluation, selection and monitoring of asset managers; (4) Analyzing the carbon footprint of public markets investments annually for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and appropriately expanding to additional asset classes; (5) Exploring appropriate tools for evaluating climate risks to the portfolio; and (6) Prioritizing proxy voting, engagement and policy advocacy that promote net zero emissions.
This new goal builds upon the funds’ recent actions to address the risks and opportunities presented by a global transition to a low carbon economy. In January 2021, the trustees voted to divest their portfolios of an estimated $4 billion in securities of fossil fuel reserve owners. This decision followed an extensive and thorough fiduciary process to assess the portfolio’s exposure to fossil fuel stranded asset risk and industry decline and other financial risks stemming from climate change, showing the prudent nature of the divestment actions adopted by the Boards. The divestment is expected to be complete within the original five year timeline.
In his State of the City speech in January of this year, Mayor de Blasio urged the City’s pension funds to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and to increase investments in climate change solutions to $50 billion by 2035. The Mayor and Comptroller jointly introduced today’s resolution to adopt a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. With their actions today the boards of NYCERS, Teachers and BERS have put the entire pension system on track to achieve these goals.
In March 2021, the Mayor, Comptroller and other trustees announced the funds have more than doubled investments in climate change solutions to over $6 billion with allocations and commitments by the end of this year. This surpasses the goal set in September 2018 to double the then $2 billion investment across all asset classes over three years to reach $4 billion of investment in companies that generate revenue from climate mitigation, adaption and resiliency such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable waste management, green buildings, and pollution prevention. It also includes companies that are measurably helping to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy consistent with goals established by the Paris Climate Accord.
Climate change creates both risks to some investments and opportunities for other investments. As part of their fiduciary responsibility, city pension funds are working to address the risks and maximize the opportunities for its beneficiaries. Specific investments will be reviewed by the boards of individual pension systems consistent with their portfolio strategies.
Climate change poses significant threats to New York City. Rising temperatures; stronger, more destructive hurricanes; severe flooding; and increasing precipitation tied to climate change have already affected neighborhoods and communities across all five boroughs and are projected to become increasingly severe and costly over the coming decades. Only by achieving net zero emissions before 2050 and eliminating the use of fossil fuels can these challenges be fully addressed. Since net zero global emissions cannot be achieved by any one city, state, or country, the funds have joined the United Nations accredited Net Zero Asset Owners Commitment of the PAII to work collaboratively with other asset owners and pension funds toward this goal.
The participating New York City Pension Funds’ trustees are:
New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS): Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Representative, John Adler (Chair); New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Borough Presidents: Gale Brewer (Manhattan), Donovan Richards (Queens), Eric Adams (Brooklyn), James Oddo (Staten Island), and Ruben Diaz, Jr. (Bronx); Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME; Tony Utano, President Transport Workers Union Local 100; Gregory Floyd, President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 237.
Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS): Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Appointee, John Adler; Chancellor’s Representative, Lindsey Oates, New York City Department of Education; Natalie Green Giles; and Debra Penny (Chair), Thomas Brown and David Kazansky, all of the United Federation of Teachers.
Board of Education Retirement System (BERS): Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter; Mayoral: Isaac Carmignani, Natalie Green Giles, Vanessa Leung, Gary Linnen, Lori Podvesker, Eric C. Henry, Kathy Park Price; Thomas Sheppard (CEC); Michael Kraft (Manhattan BP), Deborah Dillingham (Queens BP), April Chapman (Brooklyn BP), Geneal Chacon (Bronx BP) and Jaclyn Tacoronte (Staten Island BP); and employee members John Maderich of the IUOE Local 891 and Donald Nesbit of District Council 37, Local 372.
“We must make use all of the tools at our disposal to curb the effects of climate change,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Today's commitment by New York City's pension funds to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions shows vision and leadership -- and I believe it will ultimately help generate positive financial returns for our City pension beneficiaries. I was pleased to support this commitment as a trustee of the New York City Employee Retirement System, and I urge other pension funds and institutional investors to follow New York City's lead.”
“Queens knows more than most the dramatic and devastating impacts of climate change, especially our families who are still picking up the pieces and grieving loved ones in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s historic flooding,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Jr. “The actions we take as a society today will define what our city looks like tomorrow and for generations to come, and we support today’s ambitious commitment to a net zero emissions goal in our public pension funds. This is a smart and necessary investment in the future of our city, as we continue to be a global leader in the fight to combat climate change."
“Those of us representing coastal communities know firsthand how essential it is that New York shows leadership on combating climate change and doubling down on our efforts to meet our state’s climate goals,” said Senator Andrew Gounardes. “As a former trustee of NYCERS, I am glad to see we are aligning our pension fund investments with our efforts to be part of the global solution to address climate change and prevent more extreme and devastating weather events like we’ve seen in the recent past, and doing so in a way that satisfies the fiduciary obligations of our pension system."
“Today’s announcement demonstrates New York City’s continued commitment to emissions reduction. Committing to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in city pension fund investment portfolios is just the latest example of the creative and innovative solutions we are employing in pursuit of achieving our state-wide climate and clean energy goals,” said Assembly Member Michael Cusick, Chairman of the Energy Committee.
“As we reach near-record high temperatures in October, it’s clear we must do all we can to slow the damage caused by climate change,” said Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME. “By achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our pension investment portfolios, we’re both making a smart financial decision for our stakeholders and helping protect the planet for their children and grandchildren.”
“The choices being made right now will shape our society for years, if not decades to come,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org. “New York City’s smart decision to move funds out of the fossil fuel industry and into investing in climate change solutions like renewable energy means building a more resilient future. This is what real climate leadership looks like.”
"New York City’s leadership of C40’s Divest/Invest Forum has inspired global action on stepping up green investments," said Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40 Cities. "We are thrilled that it is the first U.S. city to set an ambitious net-zero standard for its public pension funds. To build an equitable, sustainable future, we must use our financial assets to champion investments in the green economy—New York City’s commitment to doubling investments in climate change solutions has raised the bar."
“We commend New York City for its leadership among cities in committing to net zero emissions across its pension investment portfolios by 2040, and joining other major asset owners in the Paris Aligned Investment Initiative,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of sustainability nonprofit Ceres. “New York City recognizes both the risks and opportunities that the urgency of the climate crisis presents. In planning to double investments in climate solutions over the next four years to $8 billion, New York City’s pension funds will be realizing competitive advantages and strong returns to its beneficiaries and the people of this great city.”
“New York City remains a leader in the divestment movement,” said Angie Fyfe, Executive Director of ICLEI USA. “When ICLEI profiled NYC's pioneering effort to shed the legacy of fossil fuels three years ago, the path ahead remained uncharted. With today's announcement, NYC continues to define the process to decarbonize pension funds—and invest in solutions—so that other cities have an easier path. We look forward to helping our network cities to take the lessons of New York City and be inspired to apply them in their local context.”
"New York City's divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment into clean energy demonstrates worldwide leadership," said Pete Sikora, Climate & Inequality Campaigns Director for New York Communities for Change. "On the verge of the next big climate conference, these are deeds - not just words - to address the climate crisis."
"Congratulations to the Mayor and Comptroller Stringer on their most recent moves to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from three of the city’s pension funds," said Michael Northrop, Sustainable Development Director at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. "New York City is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and needs to show the way forward in all ways if it is to succeed at protecting its own vulnerable communities and infrastructure."