Fossil fuel divestment and climate change: Reviewing contested arguments

  • Jeroen van den Bergh
  • Tessa Dunlop

The strategy of fossil fuel divestment has attracted considerable attention in recent years, particularly in the press and social media. Spearheaded as a movement based on ethical principles, divestment has been suggested to play a potential role in shaping public opinion and policymaking on climate change. The growing size of the movement has prompted debate about the extent of its impact on fossil fuel companies and climate change mitigation efforts. This article investigates the potential effectiveness of the divestment movement according to the end goal of climate campaigners – to bring about a complete break from fossil fuels. We collect and qualify the key arguments as found mainly in the informal debate, and to a lesser extent in the academic literature. This will help readers to make an informed judgement that can contribute to a constructive debate about the effectiveness of divestment. We organize the literature into arguments for and against divestment, and explain how these relate to each other. In addition, we derive suggestions for further research on divestment.