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The stark reality of climate change is as alarming and impending as ever. To combat this growing threat, the Harvard Management Company has become a leading investor in a methane emissions reduction working group. We applaud this move, and believe that the commitment of resources to sustainable investments shows the University’s drive to mobilize its financial power in the fight against environmental degradation.
As this Board has opined in the past, the University must play an active role in combating climate change. Our response to this threat, both as a University and as a society more broadly, will be the defining issue of our time and our generation. Harvard can and should work persistently to reduce its own carbon footprint and support sustainable technology. We are hopeful that HMC’s investment will contribute to reducing fossil fuel emissions, as this specific working group encourages companies to report and reduce their methane emissions.
Moreover, HMC’s activity signals the seriousness of the University’s intent to honor its commitment to the Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations-supported investment network that promotes environmentally responsible and sustainable initiatives. In 2014, HMC signed onto the initiative, and the working group directly operates within the network. This Board wrote then that such an action would allow Harvard to use its clout and “leverage” for positive ends, and this working group offers vindication for that hope. We further hope that this investment and others made through PRI will constitute significant efforts to combat climate change. Nonetheless, deliberate selection of sustainable investment opportunities must seek to maintain maximal endowment returns. This method of responsible investing will allow HMC to continue funding the University’s mission and commitments, including student financial aid and research initiatives across its schools.
As responsible investment and active divestment are inherently intertwined, it is important to distinguish between the two. As we have repeatedly opined many times in the past, divesting the endowment from fossil fuels would be merely a symbolic gesture with no impact on the reality of climate change. Actively supporting environmentally-conscious companies through good investment practices such as this working group, as well as promoting approaches to solving climate change issues through influencing public policy, creates a more pragmatic and positive effect instead of an empty gesture.
While we are pleased with HMC’s investment in the working group, there is clearly much more the University can do to combat climate change. This measure is simply one step towards achieving the goals set out in the University’s “Climate Action Plan,” which includes plans for it to be fossil fuel-free by 2050. While in 2019 such change may seem drastic and an abstract future responsibility, actions such as this investment show that such a future is possible — not merely for Harvard, but for our world. We encourage HMC to continue to search for investment prospects that promote sustainability and garner high investment returns so that Harvard can continue to support the work seeking to address climate change — and the other challenges we face — that takes place every day across campus.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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