The fossil fuel divestment movement has gained traction at Yale’s sister school in Singapore, where a new student group, Fossil Free Yale-NUS College, launched a campaign calling on the college to completely divest from the fossil fuel industry.
In addition to lobbying for change to the college’s investment portfolio, the group is working to educate the student body about the environmental impact of fossil fuel mining and consumption. Both FFYNC and a separate sister group at the National University of Singapore — Students Taking Action for NUS to Divest — were created this year after Yale-NUS Divest, another student-led divestment campaign founded in 2017, ceased operation after its members graduated.
In a statement to the News, Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong, who “appreciates the frank feedback” from the students, told the News that the college’s senior management team has discussed fossil fuel divestment with students involved in the divestment movement. He added that he will put the groups in contact with NUS’ investments office — which manages the Yale-NUS endowment in addition to the NUS’ own investment portfolio.
“Our responsibility remains to maintain a healthy endowment to ensure that the College continues to function well and students are able to benefit from the programmes we run here,” Tan told the News. “While we may not be able to achieve a 100 percent divestment goal, we can certainly look to see how we can best reduce the already small amount of funds that goes into this area where possible. We also remain open to suggestions on how we can continue to support environmental sustainability efforts.”
FFYNC member Xiyao Fu said the group is planning to meet with NUS officials “in the next month.”
FFYNC and STAND are collecting signatures for a petition that calls on NUS to make no further investments in fossil fuel companies, and to replace the university’s current investments in fossil fuel companies with investments in “environmentally responsible enterprises” by 2024. As of Sunday night, the petition had garnered 543 signatures.
Yale-NUS’ group also rallied support from other student groups for a separate open letter to the school’s governing board calling on the college to divest. Thirty groups have signed the letter so far, Fu said.
With the launch of the Yale-NUS divestment movement, the University’s Singaporean counterparts join students on university campuses across the United States who have long made efforts to persuade administrators to divest from fossil fuels. At Yale, Fossil Free Yale — a student-led group fighting for the University to divest its $29.4 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry — has organized rallies and protests in the past six years.
Yale’s Investments Office partially divested from fossil fuels in 2016, after which Chief Investment Officer David Swensen penned a letter to the community announcing that $10 million of the endowment had been removed from two publicly traded fossil fuel producers. But Yale and many of its peer institutions have not committed to a policy of complete divestment.
Aside from working with administration, Fu said that FFYNC hosts educational events, such as “ask me anything” Q&A sessions during meal times, when it invites other Yale-NUS students to discuss the issue of fossil fuel investments with the group’s members. To increase its visibility on campus, the group also gives out large “DIVEST” stickers.
Fu added that the group has also established a Facebook presence. FFYNC launched “Humans of Planet Earth,” a social media campaign inspired by photoblog Humans of New York that features photos of Yale-NUS students with captions saying why they care about climate change.
“We want to let the community know that people around us really care about climate change and doing something about it so that it’s no longer such a distant and unrelated issue,” Fu said.
Tan said Yale-NUS’ partnership with NUS’ investments office enables the college to save on investment management fees, while maximizing its endowment returns. Tan added that NUS’s investment strategy is “responsible,” but did not specify the amount that NUS currently invests in fossil fuels. The amount is also not available from public records, as Singaporean law does not mandate that NUS publicly disclose its holdings.
“NUS’ investments are spread across a range of instruments, including a very small exposure in fossil fuel-related areas that is held by the fund managers in various asset classes,” Tan told the News.
Sophie Lieberman ’21, a member of Fossil Free Yale, told the News that members of her group had discussions with Yale-NUS students about how the groups could work together. She added that she “fully support[s] and admire[s]” the pressure that the groups are placing on the Yale-NUS administration.
“The work of the students at Yale-NUS shows how universal this cause is,” Lieberman said. “It’s not anywhere close to being isolated on our campus, and it demonstrates a larger trend towards much greater scrutiny of the implicit support for the fossil fuel industry that investing represents.”
Yale-NUS College’s endowment stands at 386.5 million Singapore dollars ($282.3 million).
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