All-Ivy League Statement On Fossil Fuel Divestment

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The Undergraduate Council stands with the eight Ivy League Student Body Presidents in calling for our respective universities to divest from Fossil Fuels.

Resolution that Ivy League Universities Commit to Climate-Conscious Investments

Sponsor: Ivy League Student Body Presidents

Whereas climate change is a global crisis that is a paramount threat to the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations necessitating bold, immediate action;

Whereas greenhouse gas emissions – which are products of the combustion of fossil fuels – are known to cause climate change, which will have extensive negative consequences to our planet and its inhabitants; 

Whereas disease pandemics, like that of COVID-19 which we are currently living through, will likely happen not only more frequently, but also with more severity as a result of climate change. These two types of catastrophe will inevitably compound and collectively hinder effective response to either of them;

Whereas investing in the fossil fuel industry exacerbates the extreme social and racial inequalities our institutions strive to help solve. Climate change perpetuates inequality between developed and developing nations by placing most of its consequence on nations that have contributed the least. Even within developed nations, climate change aggravates existing class and racial inequities, as evidenced in part through respiratory illnesses and cancers succeeding the building of refineries and power plants; 

Whereas the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Beyond simply exacerbating natural disasters and creating unprecedented displacement of vulnerable people, climate change poses substantial threat to global food supplies, to world peace, and to the global economy; 

Whereas the fossil fuel industry is uniquely responsible for climate change; merely 100 companies are responsible for the emission of roughly 71% of the world’s carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, since anthropogenic climate change was officially recognized; 

Whereas the fossil fuel industry is using COVID-19 panic to successfully lobby for environmental regulation rollbacks and multi-billion dollar government bailouts, on top of the trillions of dollars in taxpayer money they already receive. While the fossil fuel industry continues profiteering in the midst of this unprecedented crisis, there has been less stimulus offered for renewable energy sources;

Whereas despite these immense harms, the fossil fuel industry has led a concerted, multi-decadal campaign to misinform the public and spread doubt about the realities around climate change. These disinformation campaigns mimic those of the tobacco industry (which saw widespread divestment on moral grounds), and are in direct opposition to our institutions’ values of the propagation of knowledge, the betterment of society, and ‘veritas’;

Whereas Ivy League research universities are among the most powerful and privileged institutions in the world, pioneering global thought and knowledge creation, while also holding a collective endowment sum of more than $135 Billion, a number larger than that of the entire GDP of many nations; 

Whereas the Ivy League makes up roughly 25% of all American university endowment funds, is an influential thought leader, and has tremendous social influence, giving it the potential, and the responsibility to lead the global energy transition required to combat the climate crisis; 

Whereas historically, the Ivy League has propelled environmentalism with the first Earth Day pioneered in part by University of Pennsylvania students and faculty. University sustainability has become an increasing priority for students and faculty, which administrators have begun to recognize;

Whereas despite ample financial and intellectual resources to be champions of environmental stewardship, among Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Universities, Cornell University (#8) is the only ranking Ivy League school;

Whereas Ivy League institutions that have committed to carbon neutrality cannot truly be carbon neutral while investing billions in the fossil fuel industry. Experts acknowledge that divestment at scale is an effective way to combat climate change;

Whereas in addition to the clear moral imperative upon which the Ivy League must act, it is increasingly financially irresponsible to invest in the non-renewable energy sector. The S&P 500 Fossil Fuel Free Index has consistently performed better than the S&P 500 and the S&P 500 Energy Index in recent years. Investment experts, from academics to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, emphasize that fossil fuel investments are “in the death knell phase” and are becoming increasingly unappealing as an asset, in part because of social movements like divestment;

Whereas divesting is a crucial component of maintaining sustainable long-term financial growth of endowment funds. In fact, the Ivy League’s own Brown University has committed to full divestment, asserting “The decision to halt investments in fossil fuel extraction companies reflects the view that, as the world shifts to sustainable energy sources, investments in fossil fuels carry too much long-term financial risk.” The Harvard Management Corporation’s Colin Butterfield has said that “...I doubt that we would ever make a direct investment with fossil fuels.” Earlier this year, Columbia University announced they will be divesting from publicly-traded oil and coal companies and will not be investing in fossil fuels in the future;

Whereas for reasons both moral and financial, institutions across the world are beginning to act on divestment from fossil fuels. Peer universities like the University of California system, among other schools, have committed to divest on solely financial grounds, while others like Georgetown University have made the same decision as a part of their commitment to sustainability. These universities are among a growing list of other institutions acting on divestment, including but not limited to many US cities and even the Rockefeller Foundation, whose wealth stems from fossil fuels;

Whereas many members of Ivy League schools’ Boards of Trustees have personal investments of undisclosed sums of money in the fossil fuel industry, as well as investments they may be responsible for in their professional lives. Given the tremendous potential impact of this industry exodus, the potential for a conflict of interest regarding how endowments are managed—particularly in the context of a divestment vote—is present, not unprecedented, and warrants proper scrutiny, especially in light of other institutions coming to the conclusion that divestment is in fact a more financially responsible option;

Whereas many of our universities have had referendums where students and faculty voted overwhelmingly in support of fossil fuel divestment, yet despite this, the issue continues to stagnate at the Trustee level;

Whereas we, as students, taxpayers, and citizens of the world, whose communities are already feeling the impacts of climate change, and whose future is in jeopardy, feel both a responsibility and a right to demand that our universities do better; To demand that the institutions we constitute are not complicit in the intentional harms of fossil fuel companies. With our peers already suffering the plights of drought-induced forest fires, civil unrest, displacement due to rising sea levels, and urban pollution, we feel compelled to call upon our universities to take responsibility for the well being of their constituents and lead the nation and the world towards a brighter future;

Whereas student body presidents from the Big 10 Conference passed a unanimous resolution to endorse divestment of their universities’ endowment funds from fossil fuels in response to the tremendous harms that these companies pose to student and alumni wellbeing; and

Whereas historically, institutions of higher education, and particularly the nation’s most visible and influential institutions, have been effective conduits for social change on issues of moral uncertainty. This is exemplified through rejection of the tobacco industry (for which the discourse closely parallels that of the fossil fuel industry) in the 1990’s, and South African apartheid before that. Given the institutional power we wield, the corruption and societal negligence displayed by fossil fuel companies, and the unparalleled havoc that the climate crisis promises to deliver; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the Ivy League Student Body Presidents, on behalf of their peers, collectively:

  1. acknowledge the severity of climate change, and further, the need for swift action to prevent the earth’s average temperatures from warming more than 1.5 °C to ensure a habitable future;

  1. hereby advocate that their respective institutions commit to ceasing all new investments in the fossil fuel industry (as defined below) via a public declaration made in FY2021;

  1. call on the leadership of their respective institutions to commit to having executed full divestment of endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry by FY2025 at the latest.


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