Two months after the Yale student body voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment from fossil fuel companies, the issue is slated to reach Yale’s administration for ultimate decision.
Five groups, which include two opposing student organizations and several senior Yale administrators, have shaped the debate surrounding divestment over the past year. While some have argued that divestment from fossil fuels is an ethical necessity, others objected to using the University’s endowment as a political instrument. Over half of the Yale undergraduate student body voted in the Yale College Council referendum, and 83 percent of the voting group favored divestment.
This week, the YCC presented its official position paper to the administration. The paper is a direct result of the student body’s vote in support of divestment from fossil fuel companies two months ago.
“Yale students are, in a word, smart,” Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, said in an email. “They know the existential threat that hangs over their future, and they know the university’s trustees can take a significant step toward lifting that threat. People around the world will read of this vote and take heart.”
In the coming month, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) — an entity composed of faculty and students that considers and makes recommendations on ethical issues surrounding the University’s investments — will present its official recommendations to the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR), which addresses the University’s investment practices. The three members of the CCIR will then have final authority on the issue of divestment.
“We certainly will take [the undergraduate] vote into account as we continue our work on the important subject of Yale’s investment in companies whose activities contribute to climate change,” members of the ACIR wrote in a Dec. 9 open letter to the Yale community. But, they added, “Under basic principles of corporate and university governance, the ACIR, in order to advise the Yale Corporation effectively, must act independently when formulating its recommendations to the CCIR.”
The ACIR said it takes the interests of all members of the Yale community — past, present and future — into account when making decisions, adding that it also considers the global community in which Yale exists.
Members of Fossil Free Yale, the student activist group that brought forth the divestment referendum to the student body, expressed optimism about the results of the YCC vote in November. While the referendum was a positive contribution to the divestment effort, Fossil Free Yale would have continued working with the ACIR anyway, said Gabe Rissman ’16, a representative of the organization.
Fossil Free Yale is now collaborating with the ACIR to establish a metric to measure the emissions of companies, Rissman said, adding that an existing metric created by the Carbon Disclosure Project — which measures the emissions generated by a company relative to its energy production — could give an empirical estimate of a company’s impact on the climate.
“I’m very optimistic that positive results will come,” he said. “It seems like we’re building more and more evidence.”
On Jan. 30, the ACIR will host an open meeting for the Yale community in which students and faculty are encouraged to share their ideas with the ACIR. The ACIR will present its findings to the CCIR one month later.
“I think we can expect the ACIR to request disclosure of the environmental performance metrics we specified before then,” Gabe Levine ’14, policy coordinator for Fossil Free Yale, said in an email. “What remains to be determined is how Yale will treat those companies that don’t want their investors to know how much damage they’re doing to the climate — we hope the ACIR and the CCIR will agree that Yale will divest in those cases.”
YCC president Danny Avraham ’15 said the YCC has already spoken with University President Peter Salovey, Provost Benjamin Polak and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews to discuss students’ position on the matter.
Goff-Crews said the administration is looking into presenting the YCC statement to the CCIR this spring.
In total, 43 percent of the undergraduate population actively supported divestment in the referendum.