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Amid Harvard’s dismissal of calls for fossil fuel divestment, Harvard Management Company — the group that oversees the University’s $39.2 billion endowment — has been one of the lead investors in a methane emissions reduction working group started in 2017.
The working group operates within Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations-recognized network of investors that facilitate “responsible investments,” according to its website. The working group specifically encourages companies to manage, report, and reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas and pollutant released during natural gas production and usage.
The working group featured external reviewers including investment firm Vanguard and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, as well as investment participants like oil and gas companies ExxonMobil and Occidental.
HMC joined the working group as part of its sustainable investment policies, according to HMC spokesperson Patrick McKiernan.
“Collaborative engagements are a key component of HMC’s approach to sustainable investment,” McKiernan wrote. “As a PRI signatory, HMC seeks to identify engagement opportunities, sponsored by the PRI or others, that support Harvard University’s interest in climate change initiatives.”
The work group aims to help other companies and investors better understand methane risk exposure, reduce methane emissions, and disclose progress, according to McKiernan. It has already identified and sent letters to 42 companies regarding methane emissions.
Last month, University President Lawrence S. Bacow reiterated his opposition to fossil fuel divestment, arguing as his predecessors have for years that Harvard’s endowment should not be used “as an instrument of social policy.” The University does, however, plan to operate fossil-fuel free by 2050.
The Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, a body composed of Harvard faculty, students, and alumni that determines how the University votes in investment shareholder elections, noted HMC’s participation in the working group in its annual report released earlier this month. The ASCR voted in favor of proposals calling on Chevron and Berkshire Hathaway to review and report on methane emissions resulting from their activities.
“It was noted as well that Harvard Management Company has been a lead participant in the engagement of a working group, under the auspices of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) with ExxonMobil and Occidental on methane emissions reduction and that ExxonMobil has issued a detailed report on its methane emissions,” the committee wrote of their decision to support the methane-related proposals.
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