At the The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis conference, a group of six people stands on a stage facing out. At front is Zara Ahsan, youth divestment advocate, holding a climate clock which reads: “6 YEARS 29 DAYS 19:56:29 | CA WORKERS WOULD BE $9.6B RICHER.”

REPORT: CalPERS & CalSTRS lost over $9.6 billion by not divesting from fossil fuels 10 years ago

New report from University of Waterloo reveals $21 billion loss from just six US public pensions’ fossil fuel holdings

June 28, 2023
Contact: Lindsay Meiman,, +1 (917) 970-2281

Original photo by Jeff Straw Branding taken at the conference of The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. At front is Zara Ahsan from Youth vs. Apocalypse. Additional photos here.

Sacramento, California** – Today, the University of Waterloo released a groundbreaking report revealing that if six U.S. public pension funds had divested 10 years ago, they would have been $21 billion richer, an average 13% higher return rate. These six pensions collectively represent approximately 3.4 million people. The report is entitled, The Impact of Energy Investments on the Financial Value and the Carbon Footprint of Pension Funds.

This includes CalPERS (the California Public Employees Retirement System) and CalSTRS (the California State Teachers Retirement System) – the two largest pension funds in the U.S.  By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, CalPERS experienced a 5.15% loss of returns, over $4.7 billion in missed returns, or $3,163 per beneficiary. Over the same ten years, CalSTRS experienced a 5.67% loss of returns, over $4.8 billion in missed returns, or $5,114 per beneficiary over the last ten years, by not removing fossil fuels from their investment portfolio. Collectively, CalPERS and CalSTRS could’ve been $9.6 billion richer if they divested from fossil fuels 10 years ago.

Full report available here.

“This new Waterloo data hits home for me. My mom is a beneficiary of CalSTRS – my family is depending on that retirement income for security. How can CalSTRS invest in fossil fuel companies driving climate change, heat waves, wildfires, and flooding, all while losing income for workers? While CalSTRS invests in the fossil fuel companies polluting our air, water, and soil, they could have divested ten years ago, bringing $5,000 more dollars to every single beneficiary – people like my mom. For us, $5,000 could have bought a water purification system. In the face of refinery air pollution, $5,000 could have purchased an air filtration system. With $5,000, we could have invested in home flood protection measures to protect us from climate-change-fueled historic flooding. It’s long past time for CalSTRS and CalPERS to get out of the business of investing in, and loaning money to fossil fuel companies.”

Miguel Alatorre, Jr., Fossil Free California Campaigns Organizer

The Waterloo report reveals comparable results for scenarios with and without dirty energy in the portfolio between 2019 and 2022 to explore how recent changes in the performance of the energy sector due to major global events such as COVID-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine influence the funds’ public equity performance.

In an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, Bill McKibben notes, “Along with being actively bad for the planet, fossil fuel has been actively bad for its shareholders. It dramatically underperformed other asset classes for the past decade.”

Today’s findings are entirely consistent with previous findings in Corporate Knights reports covering the decade from 2009 to 2019 showing a loss of $6,072 in value per CalPERS member by not divesting of fossil fuels over that ten-year period and $5,752 per CalSTRS member.

California Senate Bill 252 (Gonzalez, Wiener, Stern, Portantino) will require CalPERS and CalSTRS – the two largest pension funds in the U.S. – to refrain from making new investments or renewing existing ones in the 200 most carbon-intensive fossil fuel companies, as defined, provided these actions are consistent with the funds’ fiduciary responsibilities, and existing investments will be required to be eliminated from the funds’ portfolios by July 1, 2031. SB 252, a two-year bill, has successfully cleared three Senate committees and a full Senate floor vote, and is set to be taken up by the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee as early as January. 

To date, 1,592 institutions representing $40.51 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment, including the Church of England, three New York City pension funds, the largest public pension in Washington, DC, the Chicago Public Teachers’ Pension Fund, and massive global pensions like ABP and PFZW. 

At last Thursday’s Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA) annual Energy Finance Conference, Californians and financial experts made an indisputable case in support of fossil fuel divestment. At the same IEEFA event, Fossil Free California debuted Climate Clock’s new divestment “lifeline.” Programmed in coordination with the Global Fossil Fuel Divestments Database, the world’s most comprehensive tracker of divestment commitments, the new lifeline will appear on the Climate Clock’s 80-foot digital clock face in New York City’s Union Square, as well as its other large-scale clocks located across the globe in Rome, Seoul, Tokyo, London, Beijing and Harrisburg PA. Synced with the other clocks around the world, the California pensions climate clock showed a countdown to the 1.5C (2.7F)climate tipping point: 

This comes as Californians face climate whiplash, navigating lives, jobs, and families while mopping up from record-breaking floods (estimated at $30 billion in damages in 2023 so far) after decades of drought, and girding for the ever-lengthening wildfire season. Meanwhile, politically-motivated extremists work at the federal and state levels in attempts to ban common sense responsible and sustainable financial risk assessments, costing taxpayers millions

The IPCC urgently warns thatthere is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres exclaiming “new funding for fossil fuel exploration and production infrastructure is delusional.” 

“If climate chaos like fires and floods weren’t enough, this latest report lights a for major public pension funds to uphold fiduciary duty and divest from fossil fuels. As the longest-term investors for our communities, the last thing pension funds should be doing is gambling with retirement and deferred wages of workers,” said Amy Gray, Senior Climate Finance Strategist. 

Communities across the U.S., from New York and Oregon, to Colorado and California, will deliver the Pensions Loss report, along with handheld Climate Clocks with the new fossil fuel divestment lifeline, to pension decision-makers.



METHODOLOGY: The report delves into the financial performance during two time horizons – the last decade, and the last 3 years – for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC), California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS), Oregon Public Employees’ Retirement Fund (OPERF), State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) with publicly available data through the Bloomberg Terminal.  The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (CoPERA) and Alaska Retirement Management Board (ARMB) funds were analyzed using S&P Capital IQ data. 


**Sacramento, California is the ancestral home and unceded lands of the Nisenan and Miwok peoples. Fossil Free California is headquartered in the ancestral lands of the Ohlone, Muwekma, Chochenyo and Lisjan peoples, in Oakland, California. We invite you to advance Indigenous leadership by supporting Sogorea Te Land Trust and Indigenous Environmental Network.