While the Yale Corporation has yet to announce a decision on whether Yale will take steps toward divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry, other universities across the nation are moving forward with combatting climate change.
In the week since the Yale Corporation’s latest meeting, Pitzer College and Harvard University have taken steps to counter climate change through investor action. On April 7, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust announced that the school’s endowment will become a signatory of the Carbon Disclosure Project’s climate change program, a nonprofit organization that publishes data on companies’ carbon emissions. Five days later, Pitzer’s board of trustees voted to approve divestment from fossil-fuel related investments.
While members of Fossil Free Yale — a student group pushing for Yale to divest — interviewed said the recent developments at Pitzer and Harvard mark important progress for the fossil fuel divestment movement, they added that the Yale community still has work to do to effect a similar outcome here.
“We’re issuing an invitation to our sister institutions in higher education: Come join the party,” Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley said during Saturday’s announcement. “It’s so much fun to do the right thing.”
With the announcement, Pitzer College became the first higher-education institution in Southern California to commit to divesting its endowment of fossil fuel stocks. By the end of this year, Pitzer will sell about $4.4 million in fossil fuel related investments, mainly in oil and gas companies, from the school’s $125 million endowment. Trombley could not be reached for comment for this story.
Though Harvard University decided against divesting its $32 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry in October, it became a signatory last week to both to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) climate change program and to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) — a network of international investors with a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis. According to Faust, the Harvard Management Company will manage Harvard’s endowment in a manner consistent with these principles.
“Both these significant steps underscore our growing efforts to consider environmental, social and governance issues among the many factors that inform our investment decision-making, with a paramount concern for how the endowment can best support the academic aspirations and educational opportunities that define our distinctive purposes as a university,” Faust wrote in her announcement.
While Fossil Free Yale members interviewed expressed excitement at the success of Pitzer’s divestment campaign and noted how Pitzer’s response has set an important precedent, they emphasized that Yale is a very different institution from Pitzer.
Yale’s endowment is 168 times the size of Pitzer’s. Among Pitzer’s five core values listed on the school’s website, two are social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
Fossil Free Yale member Gabe Rissman ’16 said Pitzer actively encourages student input on how the school is run and embraces student activism.
“I hope that the same can happen with the Yale administration,” Rissman said. “It’s encouraging. Pitzer did something that worked, and hopefully we can follow.”
Fossil Free Yale project coordinator Elias Estabrook ’16 praised the recent developments at Harvard, citing an April 10 letter signed by more than 100 Harvard faculty members urging the university to reverse its decision against divestment.
Harvard’s new commitment to the Carbon Disclosure Project also sets important precedents in the divestment movement, he said.
“From the policy side, I’m sure we’re going to be working a lot harder with connecting our unique proposal for [carbon emission disclosure] to this precedent that was just set,” Estabrook said.
Several months ago, Fossil Free Yale recommended that Yale ask any fossil fuel companies it invests in to disclose the emissions they generate relative to their energy production, a metric designed by the Carbon Disclosure Project, to give Yale an empirical estimate of each company’s impact on the climate.
Rissman said it was frustrating that Harvard officially endorsed the Carbon Disclosure Project’s climate change program before Yale did but added that he is glad Harvard is working toward similar goals as Yale.
Fossil Free Yale Outreach Coordinator Mitch Barrows ’16 echoed Rissman’s statement, adding that he is looking to now follow Harvard’s lead.
“I think what happened at Harvard is a good indicator of what divestment does,” Barrows said. “It pushes for change [and] pushes for a paradigm shift. That’s one of the great things about the divestment campaign.”
The Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility has the final authority to decide the issue of divestment at the University.