LONDON, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A growing movement of individuals and institutions selling off shares linked to fossil fuels has the power to galvanize global efforts to halt climate change, said the co-founder of a group that works with investors.
The movement got a boost on Monday when the Rockefellers, who made their fortune from oil, along with other philanthropists and rich individuals, announced pledges to divest a total of $50 billion from fossil fuel assets.
"It's a turning point in the movement - it's a recognition that our political bodies have failed to respond to the pace of climate change," said Chuck Collins, co-founder of Divest- Invest Individual, an organization that supports individuals who want to divest from fossil fuels.
While some politicians continue to debate whether man-made climate change does exist, the move to divest highlights a potentially important shift that could help create a critical mass of people not only demanding action on climate change but putting their money where their mouth is, he said.
"People will vote with their dollars," Collins told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. "The action of individuals will support institutional efforts to stop climate change, and it will help build a market place for fossil-free investments," he added.
The coalition announced the new pledges a day before 120 heads of state address the United Nations on how they will contribute to global efforts to halt a rise in temperatures.
Divest-Invest Individual asks people to make a pledge stating the value of personal investments they intend to make, or have already made, fossil-free.
The aim is to divest from the global top 200 oil, gas and coal companies and reinvest in renewable energy and sustainable economic development.
Campaigners also hope that the divest-invest approach will help revive investment in clean energy, which peaked in 2011 at almost $318 billion and has declined since.
The movement to divest from fossil fuels was born in 2011 on just half a dozen campuses where students called on their colleges to divest endowments from coal, natural gas and oil.
Since January 2014, commitments by campuses, churches, cities, hospitals, pension funds and individuals in the United States and abroad have more than doubled to 180, according to philanthropic giving consultancy Arabella Advisors. More than 650 individuals, including actor Mark Ruffalo, who starred in The Avengers, have also joined.
In the largest divestment in the academic sector, Stanford University pledged in May 2014 that its $18.7 billion endowment would no longer be used to invest in coal.
But others, such as Harvard and the University of California, have said they would maintain their investments in oil, natural gas and coal.
Collins compared the campaign to a push by the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s to divest from companies doing business with South Africa.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a strong supporter of the divest-invest movement, called environmental destruction "the human rights challenge of our time" and stressed that the poor are bearing the brunt of climate change.
"Over the 25 years that climate change has been on the world's agenda, global emissions have risen unchecked while real world impacts have taken hold in earnest," he said in a statement released on Monday. (Reporting By Astrid Zweynert.; Editing by Ros Russell)