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Fossil fuel divestment soars to £2.6tn as climate change fears grow

Leonardo DiCaprio joins campaign to pull funds out of oil, coal and gas companies to stave off global warming

Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio has thrown his weight behind the global movement for fossil fuel divestment. Thanks to his efforts and that of numerous other activists and public bodies, assets totalling £2.6tn are now on course to be withdrawn from oil, coal and gas companies.

The actor and environmental campaigner, who has donated millions to environmental groups, has joined thousands of individuals and institutions that have vowed to sell off stocks, bonds and shares in fossil fuel companies amid growing climate change fears. These include national and local governments, churches, universities and pension funds.

new report by investment experts reveals a 50-fold increase in divestment in the last year alone, as more capital flows into clean energy projects in the ongoing fight against global warming.

"Now is the time to divest and to let our world leaders know that we are taking action to address climate change," DiCaprio said as he vowed to divest both his personal and charitable assets. His words have been echoed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who called for an "apartheid-style boycott to save the planet."

So why the marked surge in divestment? The arguments are both moral and financial, with investors fearful of the impact of climate change on both the world and the value of their portfolios, reports the Guardian, which is leading its own divestment campaign.

Fossil fuel firms continue to extract reserves at an alarming rate, prompting calls to break ties with companies that are failing to take action on climate change.

This rise in divestment shows growing concern and awareness about the risks of global warming, which experts warn will lead to rising sea levels, flooding and droughts, as well as increased disease and conflict, and a surge in refugees.

Fossil fuel divestment isn't just a way of preventing catastrophic climate change, it is also "sound economics" says former EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard. There are significant risks associated with fossil fuel investment, as its viability is rooted in carbon reserves that experts warn cannot be burned without severe environmental consequences.

Research published earlier this year revealed that global fossil fuel reserves worth trillions of dollars must be left in the ground if international targets on curbing climate change are to be met. The report makes uncomfortable reading for fossil fuel companies, as an estimated 82 per cent of their global coal reserves, almost half of all gas reserves and a third of all oil reserves could soon become worthless.

However, the divestment movement is not just about preventing the continued use of fossil fuels, it is also about limiting the political clout held by powerful oil industries, says Bloomberg.

Bill McKibben, from the 350.org climate campaign that started the divestment movement, says big institutions and organisations are finally stepping up to say: "We won’t participate in this charade and we will stand up to the fossil fuel companies that are causing it."

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