This story has been updated to include comment from a Yale-NUS spokesman.
SINGAPORE — The divestment movement has spread from New Haven to Singapore: Students at Yale-NUS College launched Singapore’s first divestment campaign last week, calling on the school’s administration to move towards the complete divestment of its $260 million endowment from the fossil fuel industry within the next five years.
The campaign comes shortly after members of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility met with senior executives at Exxon Mobil to determine whether Yale should sell its holdings in the company. Calling themselves Yale-NUS Divest, the group of about 15 students hosted a series of events last week to kick off their campaign, including a documentary screening and an online discussion with a member of Fossil Free Yale. The campaign also circulated a petition asking the Yale-NUS administration to release a communitywide statement next month and to invest in socially responsible enterprises, in addition to divesting from fossil fuels.
“Yale-NUS must act with a conscience and make the ethical decision to divest its endowment from the polluters that cause climate change and obstruct climate action,” the petition read. “Divesting from fossil fuels upholds the principles on which Yale-NUS College was founded and allows us to live up to our vision of being ‘in Asia, for the world.’”
As students at Yale-NUS begin their campaign, student-led efforts to persuade administrators to divest from fossil fuels remain a consistent feature of campus activism in schools around the globe. A report published by People and Planet, a British environmental advocacy organization, noted that more than 40 universities in the United Kingdom had divested from fossil fuels as a result of campus action.
Student activists have seen less success in the United States. While Stanford University decided to divest from coal companies in 2014 and Barnard College recently pledged to divest from energy companies that deny climate change, many schools including Yale have not committed to a policy of divestment.
In an interview with the News, Feroz Khan YNUS ’18 said that plans to launch the campaign were first formulated around three months ago. At the time, Khan and four fellow Yale-NUS environmental studies majors discussed the feasibility of getting involved in campus issues close to their hearts.
Their activist efforts were enhanced by other members of the college administration, who confirmed that the Yale-NUS endowment investment profile has exposure to fossil fuel companies.
“Part of the impetus for this whole campaign was that earlier this semester the administration confirmed to us that some of the endowment is exposed to the oil and gas industry. That concretized the momentum around the campaign,” Khan said. “We still don’t know exactly how much, and we’ve heard it’s difficult for them to generate an exact estimate, but that information was enough for us to hit the ground running.”
Khan added that the group has been encouraged by the campus community’s positive response to their campaign. In addition to hosting events on campus last week, the group published a column in The Octant, Yale-NUS’ student newspaper, detailing the rationale behind their position and has also engaged with members of the community on social media.
Students, faculty and even members of the administration share concerns about fossil fuel investment, Khan noted.
“There’s a recognition from some administrators that this is something that students really care about, and they want to support this kind of consciousness emerging among students,” Khan said. “Where there is some kind of hesitation is how exactly divestment can be done given that we don’t necessarily manage our own endowment.”
Yale-NUS’ endowment is managed by the investments office of the National University of Singapore. According to a handbook of campus policies and procedures provided to faculty, the Yale-NUS governing board must consult with the investments committee of the NUS Board of Trustees before changing endowment allocations. Any change to endowment policy must also be endorsed by the investments committee of the NUS board.
In a list of frequently asked questions posted online by Yale-NUS Divest, the group notes that the Yale-NUS Office of the President has told them that the extent of endowment money invested in fossil fuel companies by external fund managers is not disclosed in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
A Yale-NUS College spokesperson said in an email that the college appreciates the feedback the students have shared, and noted that the senior management team has discussed the issue with the students who started the campaign.
“Although only a small fraction of the endowment is invested in fossil fuels, given the complexity involved in the management of these funds, it would be very challenging for the College to completely divest from fossil fuels, “the spokesperson added. “Nonetheless, the College appreciates the efforts of the students, and remains open to suggestions on how we can continue to support environmental sustainability efforts.”
In 2015, more than 90 percent of Singapore’s energy usage was sourced from fossil fuels.