Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Investment Strategies

God led Adam around all the trees of the Garden of Eden. And God said to Adam: "See My works, how good and praiseworthy they are?! And all that I have created I made for you. (But,) be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world - for if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it." Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

The scientific consensus about the link between fossil fuels and the destructive consequences of climate change is clear and compelling. According to the EPA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is driven by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, which have increased since the beginning of the industrial era and began a steeper climb in 1970[1]. Fossil fuel combustion and related industrial activity represents 78% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 73% of U.S. emissions[2]. This has caused an increasing string of the warmest years in recorded history, which has led to warming land resulting in more frequent and destructive fires, and warming seas resulting in more frequent and violent storms[3]. A 2021 World Bank report estimated that climate change could force 216 million people to move within their own countries by 2050[4]. In 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that climate-related disasters like hurricanes and floods have already forced 3.4 million Americans to evacuate their homes, 16% of whom never returned.[5]

There is also growing consensus that climate must be addressed more urgently as these destructive forces continue to accelerate. International action has been focused since 2015 on efforts to limit temperature rise from the inception of the industrial era to 1.5 degrees Celsius (as the level of change predicted to cause major irreparable destruction), a small further change beyond the 1.1 degree increase that has already occurred[6]. While earlier proposals have generally focused on achieving net-zero additional emissions by 2050, the acceleration of warming has also led to policy acceleration as well, with government and NGO leaders including the US, currently calling for achieving net-zero sooner, in some cases by 2030 or 2035.[7]

The Reform Jewish movement has long recognized the need for a national energy policy that also protects against global warming. After decades of weighing in on national energy policy and conservation issues, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in its 1991 resolution, The Environment, called for government to take action, including "the provision of significant resources for the study of mitigation of global warming and destructive environment change." A 2009 resolution, Climate Change and Energy, stated: "We now face the unprecedented challenge of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for serious and urgent action on this issue has never been clearer." In 2017, the Resolution on Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change reaffirmed and added: "What has changed since our prior statements? The urgency." In parallel, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) 2015 Resolution on Climate Justice recognized global climate justice as a priority social justice initiative, pledging "to continue reminding ourselves, our communities and our leaders the teaching of our tradition that, if we corrupt this Earth, 'there will be no one to set it right thereafter.'" In 2022, CCAR's Resolution on the Climate Crisis recognized the urgency for change, calling for education, advocacy, and local practical actions. And in 2023, the URJ's Religious Action Center (RAC) launched Power for Purpose: The Reform Movement's Campaign for Climate Justice, focusing on political action that might be taken by movement organizations, including about 850 Reform Jewish congregations across the U.S. and Canada.

A December 2022 report found that the largest Jewish institutions (including the four major denominational movements, 20 largest Federations and national Federation, and 20 largest American Jewish foundations) held $34.7 billion in total investments, including about $3.3 billion in fossil fuel investments. Fossil fuels accounted for a total of nearly 10% and median of 5.54% of all investments. The report estimates that this is only one-third of total American Jewish communal invested assets, so the full exposure of Jewish communal investments in fossil fuels may be approximately $10 billion. (This does not include Jewish congregations' or individuals' investments).

The Reform movement has also long recognized the importance of investments in achieving policy priorities. In the 1997 resolution, Socially Responsible Investment, URJ adopted the concept of the "double bottom line" - that investment should look at both the rate of return and the alignment of the investment with our values. Many organizations within the Reform Movement, from the URJ and CCAR to individual congregations, invest assets in stocks and mutual funds that include fossil fuel companies (those engaged in the exploration, production, transportation, sale, or manufacturing of fossil fuels or fossil fuel byproducts) and companies that provide essential assistance to the fossil fuel industry (including financial institutions that provide necessary funding and utility companies that provide an outlet for fossil fuel products). There are alternative investments available, including fund options that provide "filters" or "screens" on investment holdings to exclude fossil fuel companies. The Reform Pension Board's Reform Jewish Values Stock fund offers pension plan participants as well as congregations the opportunity to invest in alignment with the Reform Movement's specific values; the fund's filters include exclusion of companies involved in production and mining of coal, related products, and other consumable fuels related to energy generation.

Some institutional investors, including religious organizations, universities, public sector funds, and private managers, are among approximately 1600 organizations with over $40 trillion in assets that have committed to some form of divestment of stockholdings of fossil fuel companies[10], based on the following arguments:

(i) fossil fuel investments are inconsistent with climate activism values[11],

(ii) fossil fuel investments will decline in value as the world moves to sustainable energy[12], and

(iii) there are many alternative investment options that eliminate fossil fuels and have done as well as or better than fossil fuel investments over many years[13].

Other investors, including a smaller number of religious organizations, have not divested but instead focused on shareholder advocacy - to advocate change by the various companies in which they are invested. They argue that:

(i) they have been able to effectuate changes by corporate management through the use or threat of their votes at shareholder meetings[14];

(ii) divestment does not impact the fossil fuel companies[15] since it merely shifts ownership of stock without also addressing the use of fossil fuels or the profitability of the company, and it does not affect stock prices, since there will be other investors who are happy to purchase the stock and are less likely to hold management to account;

(iii) unlike apartheid and tobacco, which have no moral justification and are more easily contained bodies of investment that could be disengaged quickly, our complex dependence on fossil fuels[16], and the need for a just and timely transition away from a fossil fuel economy, requires engagement rather than simple disengagement.

Notwithstanding the positions described above, practical limitations to a shareholder engagement strategy support divestment from fossil fuel companies. Although there has been some success - such as limiting the use or production of methane gas in operations[17] - advocacy has largely been ineffective in compelling large fossil fuel companies to change. The Brookings Institution cites large fossil fuel sector subsidies from governments around the world, and the extensive network of institutional investment from banks and insurance funders, as two key reasons for this[18]. One example of a change in approach: the Church of England spent a decade on engagement strategies with BP and Shell and then in 2023 determined that there has been no meaningful payoff in moving those companies via shareholder advocacy and shifted into a divestment path[19]. In addition, although shareholder activism can be pursued in partnership with other organizations, the limited resources of the Reform Jewish movement might better be spent pursuing other paths, such as advocating for more aggressive governmental solutions. Finally, maintaining significant investments in fossil fuel companies could be seen (including by decision makers or advocacy coalition partners) as hypocritical, conflicting with our policy advocacy regarding climate change.

A separate determination on the divest/advocate question might be appropriate for our stockholdings of non-fossil fuel companies that are critically adjacent to the core fossil fuel business. For example, financial institutions that fund and/or insure fossil fuel companies and their extractive operations might be encouraged by shareholder advocacy to use their market power to change the behavior of fossil fuel companies, thereby directly impacting fossil fuel companies' actions and potential profitability. Similarly, for utility companies and other major consumers of energy, shareholder advocacy might encourage them to move to sustainable power.[20], [21], [22] "A key piece of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and unburned is to stop the money that is keeping the industry afloat," Dayenu CEO Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, told eJewishPhilanthropy[23].

The question of balancing investment strategies with fiduciary responsibilities is an important one. Although the URJ's "double bottom line" deems it appropriate to invest in a manner consistent with Jewish values even if the result is a lower rate of investment return, nothing here should suggest that fossil fuel divestment will necessarily lead to lower investment returns. Some studies have concluded that filtering out fossil fuel companies from portfolios would in fact generate higher returns, at least over certain time periods[24]. Other studies find that filtering out any single industrial sector has minimal impact over the long term[25], as would filters that generally highlight environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) measures There are numerous funds and instruments that currently filter out fossil fuels, including at least one based on Jewish values. Also, as climate-related financial risk becomes a material risk for corporations, company directors could become liable for their failures to manage that risk, in the same way that they can be held liable for failure to manage other material risks to the company[26]. Different types of investors and holdings (e.g., pensions or other retirement accounts, endowments, mutual funds) may have different aspects that require consideration, including the existence of fiduciary duty, availability of alternate investment options, and full disclosure and transparency.

When large or small institutions in faith-based organizations, higher education, or public sector funds have moved towards shareholder activism and/or divestment, they have typically established a 3-5 year timeline to balance the needs of study, planning, consideration of options, prudent timelines for decision making, and annual reporting and engagement that is open to changing conditions. In most cases, institutions engaging in this area are developing Climate Action Plans (CAPs) that cover not only investments but operation and facilities, transportation, as well as other programming, research, and educational needs[27]. Notable among these efforts is Dayenu, in their report With All Our Might, which recommends a six-part planning process including grounding; researching investments; education of leaders and members; engagement; making a plan; and making investment decisions. Ongoing engagement and reporting with Reform institutions and congregations is an important part of an ongoing successful strategy.

We are guided by Jewish text and tradition. In the opening words of the Torah, we learn that God placed humans in the Garden of Eden, l'ovdah (to serve/till) u'l'shomrah (and to guard/tend) it (Genesis 2:15.) And in Deuteronomy 30:19, "See, I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse - and [you should] choose life, in order that you and your children may live." We are obligated to act to protect our planet, to guard and to tend, choosing and ensuring life for future generations.

This is a collective responsibility. In Leviticus Rabba 4:6, a parable is described: A man in a boat began to drill a hole under his seat. His fellow passengers protested. "What concern is it of yours?" he responded. "I am making a hole under my seat, not yours." They replied: "That is so, but when the water comes in it will sink the whole boat and we will all drown." With the international connectivity of climate change and destruction, we truly are in a "climate boat" boat together. Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all Israel is responsible for one another[28]; when it comes to climate, that responsibility naturally extends to all people. "Judaism is a communal religion…to take solitary action is ineffective; to not take action at all is defeatist, Instead, we need to focus on moving the entire community, and society, on a collective path."[29]

We are also guided by Jewish tradition of "elu v'elu" (both these and those), recognizing that there is often not only one opinion or solution to a problem and that the real world is often not "either/or" but "yes, and…" Different groups have different needs and might choose different strategies to get to the same ultimate goal: ensuring less death, destruction, and desecration of the planet. Perhaps in no area is the ancient Jewish directive from the Pirke Avot so relevant and urgent: "You are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it."


  1. Recognize the dire and deadly urgency of the climate crisis and the Reform Jewish Movement's moral and spiritual call to take action to protect the earth and its inhabitants.
  2. Recognize that the Reform Pension Plan and the American Conference of Cantors Retirement Plan, as 403(b)(9) multiple employer defined contribution church plans, are stewards of others' money and therefore have certain fiduciary obligations and limitations. These include but are not limited to offering a menu of investment options to meet the diverse needs of their participants and not offering investment advice. And while these fiduciary obligations are paramount, the Jewish values espoused in the Reform Movement's resolutions are considered whenever feasible and may be incorporated into investment strategies when possible. It further recognizes that there may be other retirement plans maintained by congregations that have similar limitations, obligations and approaches.
  3. Call upon all Reform Jewish Movement entities and congregations with financial investments to implement a targeted combination of divestment, shareholder engagement, and adjustment/redirection of holdings; including:
    a. Divestment from direct investment in fossil fuel companies (with the option of maintaining the de minimis number of shares required to enable participation in shareholder advocacy directly with fossil fuel companies, as in (b) below).
    b. Engagement in shareholder advocacy with companies adjacent to or supporting the fossil fuel industry where it reasonably can be expected to be effective in moving a corporation toward net-zero in a timely manner. Engagement includes shareholder advocacy with banks or financial institutions directly or indirectly financing fossil fuel companies, insurers of fossil fuel companies, utilities powered by fossil fuels, or others dealing with fossil fuel companies; the purpose of such advocacy is to encourage those institutions to engage directly with the fossil fuel companies to seek change and demand accountability for commitments. This may be accomplished by working with one or more of the many organizations which are working to effect change.30 In the event a financial provider or other company adjacent to the fossil fuel industry refuses to use its power to put pressure directly or indirectly on fossil fuel companies, investors should consider divestment.
    c. Adjustment of holdings in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, etc. based on examination for the presence of fossil fuel or other companies involved in extracting or servicing the extraction of coal, oil, gas, and/or tar sands. Work with financial advisors and asset managers as appropriate to ensure any such funds held are transparent about their fossil fuel holdings, and, consistent with any fiduciary responsibilities, include funds which:
    i. include filters against investments in fossil fuel companies, and/or
    ii. actively engage on behalf of their investors in companies supporting the fossil fuel industries, consistent with 3.b. above.
    d. Redirecting investment into the development of renewable energy and clean energy solutions consistent with the risk/return profile of the specific investor.
  1. Urge all Reform Jewish Movement entities and congregations to engage in assessment, monitoring, and annually reporting progress with respect to the investment recommendations described herein, with targets for 2030 and 2035 corresponding to corporate and institutional practices described herein.


This resolution is based on a year of work, including consultation with leaders in 4 areas:

1) major Reform Institutions including the Union for Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Reform Pension Board, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, American Conference of Cantors, Men of Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism;

2) other faith-based institutions including Laudato Si (Catholic,) Everence (Mennonite), The Pension Boards - United Church of Christ, Union Theological Seminary, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Dayenu, and JLens, offering a range of perspectives and potential actions including divestment and shareholder engagement;

3) public sector financial leaders including New York City and New York State Comptrollers;

4) other investment resource centers and organizations engaging in responsibility filters and investment screens and options, such as As You Sow and Ceres.

Insight was also provided by Stephen Davis, Senior Fellow, Harvard Law Programs on Corporate Governance and Institutional Investors, and David Baskin, Chairman and President of Baskin Wealth Management in Toronto.

[28] Talmud Shevuot 39a
[29] Rabbi Jacob Siegel, “Put Your Money Where Your Soul Is,” (Ben Yehuda Press, 2023), 178.
[30] Many organizations work in this field supporting engagement, divestment, responsibility filters and investment screens; please refer to the Addendum at the end of the Resolution.