Clean Power

Published on January 28th, 2015 | by Joshua S Hill

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Swedish & US Universities Divest From Coal, Oxford ‘Meets To Discuss’

January 28th, 2015 by  

Several universities have almost simultaneously announced that they will be divesting their fossil fuel investments, in a trend that will hopefully spread across large and small tertiary institutions worldwide.

university commencementI have come across a number of these stories of late, and it seems that the idea is becoming more and more popular — and even necessary — as time goes by.

Though interestingly, one of the biggest stories over the last little while has been Oxford University and their investments. Earlier this week, the Oxford University General Purposes Committee met to discuss whether or not to recommend divesting fossil fuel investments from its £3.8 billion investment — the largest endowment wealth of any higher education institution in the UK.

The meeting came following a mass protest by Oxford University Fossil Free campaigners. According to Fossil Free, an international network of campaigns and campaigners, Oxford University students and alumni campaigned with degrees painted “oil black to demonstrate anger at Oxford’s ongoing investment in the fossil fuel industry.”

As of this writing, no news has surfaced publicly regarding the decision of the Oxford University General Purposes Committee meeting.

However, Oxford University may be an outlier, if things go according to trend.

Earlier this month, Vermont’s Goddard College announced that it had finalized the complete divestment of fossil fuel assets from its investments. The move comes in a long line of what the college believes is “imaginative and responsible action in the world.”

“The divestment from fossil fuel company investments is one action in Goddard College’s long history of taking ‘imaginative and responsible action in the world,’” said Interim President Robert Kenny. “The College’s recent efforts to reduce its carbon footprint have led to a number of energy saving activities, including a proposal to convert our 20, oil burning heating furnaces to a single, centralized, locally-sourced wood chip plant. This divestment is a logical extension of those efforts, and we are proud to finalize its implementation.”

But Goddard College’s announcement is by no means the first or the last higher education institute to make such a move.

Stanford University announced in May of 2014 that it will no longer invest in publicly traded companies that mine for coal for energy generation.

“Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”

And according to an article in The Washington Post, Stanford’s move directly followed a number of other schools (list courtesy of Jake Richardson):

  • College of the Atlantic
  • Foothill-De Anza Community College
  • Green Mountain College
  • Hampshire College
  • Naropa University
  • Peralta Community College District
  • Pitzer College, Prescott College
  • San Francisco State University
  • Sterling College
  • Unity College

Green tertiary education institutions are an important part of the conversation these days, as shown by the importance of Online Schools Center’s Top 50 Green Schools list. The list represented a composite ranking from the following:

  • Inclusion in a recent Princeton Review “green” schools list, especially in the last two years of their Honor Roll
  • Inclusion in the EPA.gov list
  • Inclusion in a recent Sierra Club list
  • Inclusion in a recent U.S. News’ Eco-friendly Campuses list
  • A recent rating of gold or silver from AASHE.org’s STARS list
  • Current or pending green initiatives

To top it all off, in just the past few days, two new schools have announced their own intention to divest from fossil fuel investment: one in the US and one in Sweden.

Fossil Free again reported on Chalmers University of Technology, announcing that they would become the first Swedish academic institution to divest its assets in fossil fuels, which are currently worth approximately SEK 5 million.

John Holmberg, vice president and professor of energy and environment at Chalmers, sums up the school’s decision, and one of the main reasons so many investments are moving away from fossil fuels:

“Apart from the fact that fossil fuel investments are financially risky given how much fossil fuels must stay in the ground, there’s a stronger reason to divest. We need to redirect our investments to developments we believe in and make sure the energy transition is carried out as quickly as possible.”

Holmberg continued, voicing just how important universities can be in initiating change:

“When the Apartheid regime fell in South Africa, universities were part of driving that change by divesting and thus removing their support from companies operating in South Africa. Investments can be a key factor for change, this we know.”

A few days later, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Monday to divest all of its direct holdings from coal companies. This is the first state-wide university system in the United States to make such a decision (though of course, individual universities and institutions have made their own decisions), and the first public land grand institution.

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Just a week before the University of Maine decided to divest, Divest UMaine posted this image showing how widespread support was for the measure.
Image Credit via Divest UMaine

“This is an exciting new precedent for public institutions, which must be responsible participants in broader society, which requires acknowledging their role in investing in an industry that has a track record of driving climate change and exploiting communities, disproportionately low-income and communities of color,” said Meaghan LaSala, organizer with Divest UMaine, speaking to Common Dreams.

Divestment of fossil fuel investments across tertiary education systems could be one of the big motivators for other investors to make similar decisions — and such a movement is already on the swing. Only time will tell how much of an impact these decisions will have on the large scale.

 


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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • Raahul Kumar

    I want to see pension funds and sovereign wealth funds like Norway who has already divested follow suit. That sends a clear message that coal’s days are numbered.

    • JamesWimberley

      The smaller of the two Norwegian public funds, the $84bn KLP, has divested (link). It manages the occupational pension fund for public employees. The bigger one – the $850bn SPU, a backstop to the general national insurance pension scheme – has not (link).

      • Raahul Kumar

        So more remains to be done. But now there is a local example of divestment. And lately Coal India shares have been sold. 10%.
        So the government is getting out of the coal business.

        It’s the coal miners protesting that’s stopped Modi from fully divesting.

  • Martin

    It is good to see that the younger generation is willing and pushing for posotive change!

  • JamesWimberley

    Stanford was the first major endowment to divest, and that is so far partial – from coal not oil and gas. My alma mater may become the first in the big league (>$1bn) to go the full Monty.

    Most of the endowments at Oxford and Cambridge belong to the colleges, not the universities as such. However I can’t see a college holding out for long against a central recommendation to divest, knowing that the move may trigger a decline in fossil share prices.

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