In the context of opening a United Nations (UN) environmental event in his city Wednesday, Portland, OR, Mayor Charlie Hales called for several Oregon state investment funds to purge themselves of holdings in fossil fuel companies. The state’s largest city already has taken that step, Hales said.

Hales made the remarks as part of a keynote speech honoring World Environment Day, for which Portland was designated as the North American host by the UN Environment Programme. Along with divesting itself of fossil fuel stock investments, Portland is set to begin implementing a 2012 resolution directing all of its city bureaus to buy 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources.

“We must act before the carbon bubble bursts,” Hales said. “And we must send the signal to the market that such investments are risky.”

Saying it is not enough for a city like Portland to strip fossil fuel investments from its portfolio, Hales said he is urging similar actions from the Oregon Treasurer’s Office, the Local Government Investment Pool and the Oregon Investment Council. “Why take this seemingly risky investment strategy? Because not doing it is the truly risky move,” he said.

Hales contends that fossil fuel assets are concentrated in about 200 publicly traded companies, and eventually all of them will “burn through their entire reserves.” While he acknowledged that no one knows when that will happen, he said by definition it has to happen some time.

“When that day comes, shares in these companies will lose most of their value. By divesting from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies, Portland can eliminate the risk to its own financial future.”

This effort is part of a larger sustainability initiative by Portland to work with private-sector utilities in the area to reduce reliance on coal- and natural gas-fired generation, which is a major source of local electricity supplies, along with the rich Pacific Northwest hydroelectric resources. The city plans in August to seek a Rockefeller Foundation grant for its “1,000 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.”

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