UPDATED: April 8, 2014, at 12:57 a.m.
University President Drew G. Faust announced several new initiatives to mobilize solutions to climate change in an email to the Harvard community Monday afternoon, including the decision to adhere to investment policies and practices laid out by the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment.
According to the email, titled “Confronting climate change,” the three-fold endeavor will launch a research-focused Climate Change Solutions Fund, increase sustainability measures on campus, and affirm the endowment’s commitment to environmentally sustainable and socially conscious investing.
Faust began the letter by echoing previous statements she has made regarding the urgency of climate change and wrote that she believes Harvard and other universities have a unique role in protecting the planet.
“As a university, [Harvard] has a special obligation and accountability to the future, to the long view needed to anticipate and alter the trajectory and impact of climate change,” she wrote in the email. “Harvard also possesses the wide range of capacities across fields and disciplines that must be mobilized and conjoined in order to create effective solutions.”
The first area of the initiative, research, will be jumpstarted at the beginning of the next academic year with $1 million in grants awarded through a newly-created Climate Change Solutions Fund. Faust wrote that she will look to donors to help expand the fund to $20 million to “catalyze the aspects of [current] research that specifically focus on shaping and accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy system.”
She also wrote that the Harvard Campaign has already raised $120 million to support research related to energy and the environment.
The initiative’s second area focuses on current sustainability efforts on campus. As Faust mentioned in the letter, the University set a goal in 2008 of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 2006 baseline. The current reduction has been 21 percent, including effects of growth and renovation
Faust wrote in the letter that the University will “explore and exhaust” options to increase efficiency on campus. She also wrote that she will also create a senior faculty-led committee focused on sustainability.
Lastly, Faust addressed Harvard’s endowment, which has recently generated criticism related to its management and environmental impact, and particularly its investment in the fossil fuel industry. In the letter, Faust acknowledged and reaffirmed her controversial announcement last October that the University would not divest from the fossil fuel industry.
However, she announced that the endowment will become a signatory to both the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project’s climate change program. The former organization provides a framework for combining prudent investment with consideration for environmental, social, and governance factors, while the latter advocates, with investors, for transparency in the environmental impact of portfolio companies.
Harvard’s is the first university to agree to follow the PRI principals in the United States.
“Both these significant steps underscore our growing efforts to consider environmental, social and governance issues among the many factors that inform our investment decision-making, with a paramount concern for how the endowment can best support the academic aspirations and educational opportunities that define our distinctive purposes as a university,” Faust wrote.
Members of Divest Harvard, a student organization that calls for Harvard’s divestment from fossil fuel companies, said Monday evening that they were “encouraged” by Faust’s initiatives but still consider there to be a “long way to go.”
Henney H. Sullivan ’15, a member of Divest Harvard, said that he was “troubled” that Faust’s announcement did not address the “political obstruction that stops Harvard research from being implemented.” He added that there were discrepancies in Harvard’s approach to finding solutions for climate change.
Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, an activist on-campus organization that advocates for just endowment management practices, similarly praised the decision and “the new direction” laid out by Faust in a statement, while urging vigilance.
“We hope that Harvard’s new commitments to responsible investment will lead to a swift resolution to the conflict between Harvard's plantations in Argentina and the surrounding communities,” the group wrote in a statement.
—Staff writer Christine Y. Cahill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cycahill16.
—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.