The exclusion of divestment from fossil fuels is an important contradictory caveat in Harvard University’s newly adopted code of investment principles. Harvard’s investment policies are far more than symbolic as the university oversees the world’s largest college endowment valued at $33 billion.
Shortly after hiring Jameela Pedicini as Harvard’s first vice president for sustainable investment in 2013, the university announced that it would not divest from fossil fuels despite a groundswell of protest both on and off campus.
Harvard is ignoring a trend that is sweeping across institutes of higher learning in much of the western world. A total of 500 university campuses and other institutions across America and Europe have divested from fossil fuels. While the new Harvard investment code will address a wide range of environmental and social issues, it does not oblige the school to sell off its existing fossil fuel investments.
With the exception of the university’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels, there are a number of positive elements in the new initiatives. The investment guidelines are backed by the UN and Harvard is the first university to adopt such a code. As announced by Harvard president, Drew Gilpin Faust, the school will ask alumni and donors to help raise $20 million for climate research. The university will also join the Carbon Disclosure Project, requiring the school to report on its carbon footprint.
At first glance the fact that Harvard has adopted these initiatives is a great feat, however excluding divestment from fossil fuels is a deliberate and glaring omission.
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