On March 13, 2017 Columbia University announced that its Trustees voted to “divest from companies that derive more than 35% of their revenue from thermal coal production and to participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Climate Change Program.” Meanwhile, Harvard took a significant step toward fossil fuel divestment by saying it will “pause” new investments in fossil fuels.
Columbia University is the latest university to divest from coal, joining institutions such as Stanford and UC Berkeley. Divestment was not an easy decision. “Divestment of this type is an action the University takes only rarely and in service of our highest values,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “That is why there is a very careful and deliberative process leading up to any decision such as this. Clearly, we must do all we can as an institution to set a responsible course in this urgent area. ”
The Trustees also urged Columbia University to continue strengthening efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint. And at the same time to further support research, educational efforts, and policy analysis in the field of climate change and carbon emissions reduction.
Harvard Edges toward Divestment
Harvard Management Company’s head of natural resources, Colin Butterfield, said that Harvard is “pausing” direct investments in oil, gas and coal in the natural resources portfolio.
Butterfield’s comments follow just one month after Divest Harvard’s blockade of University Hall. This was the most recent demonstration of a five year campaign calling upon Harvard to pull out its $37.5 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.
Harvard still refuses to declare a permanent moratorium on fossil fuel investments. And while Butterfield claims that Harvard doesn’t plan to directly invest in fossil fuels, he did mention that the university indirectly invests in fossil fuels through outside funds.
Butterfield referred to climate change as “a huge problem” and also said “I clearly feel that we are stealing from future generations.”
“We’re heartened to hear Butterfield acknowledge the gross injustice of climate change. Oil, coal, and natural gas are no longer economically, or morally, viable options,” says Isa Flores-Jones, Divest Harvard Coordinator.
Universities Keep up the Pressure
All of this comes as students across the country are escalating their calls for fossil fuel divestment. Earlier this week, students from University of California Berkeley staged a sit-in, calling for full divestment. Students at Swarthmore College continue their occupation of the President’s’ office. Meanwhile, campaigns at CU Boulder, Columbia University, Ohio State University, Boston University, and Northeastern University continue escalation.