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Harvard Endowment Commits to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050

The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings.
The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings. By Steve S. Li
By Ellen M. Burstein and Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Corporation has directed the Harvard Management Company to develop a plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in a message to faculty Tuesday afternoon.

“Climate change is a defining issue of our time,” Bacow wrote. “Harvard is confronting this challenge in our teaching, our research, and through ambitious sustainability efforts on our own campus.

The Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — requested HMC develop a plan for achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 and present it to the Corporation by the end of 2020.

“With this commitment, our focus is on reducing the demand for fossil fuels, an action that is consistent with the University’s overall commitment to reduce our operational carbon footprint,” Bacow wrote. “It will require us to work with other investors to develop tools to monitor the carbon footprint of our investment managers. If we are successful, we will reduce the carbon footprint of our entire investment portfolio and achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.”

The endowment was last valued at $40.9 billion in June 2019 and includes public and private equities, stocks, bonds, natural resources, real estate, and other investments.

According to the announcement, HMC will collaborate with faculty and other experts to develop a methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and work with its external asset managers to gain transparency and measure their portfolio’s emission levels.

“It’s always difficult to gather comprehensive data for the first time—especially on this scale—but we will take every opportunity to refine and improve our analysis as we work toward a net-zero portfolio,” N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, the CEO of HMC, said in a press release.

“Harvard’s pledge today supplements our many ongoing efforts to prepare for and accelerate the necessary transition to a fossil fuel-free economy,” Bacow added.

The University previously pledged to be fossil fuel free by 2050 and fossil fuel neutral by 2026 in the operations and maintenance of the campus.

Over the past several years, campus activist groups including Divest Harvard have garnered national attention in calling for the University to divest completely from the fossil fuel industry. Most recently, in a statement released in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the group linked Harvard’s quick response to the pandemic to its demand for divestment.

“The administration proved that it can act with urgency if it wants to, and we support their general decision to rapidly upend the status quo when necessary,” the press release from Divest Harvard reads.

In a February demonstration, Divest Harvard called on the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry by Earth Day 2020, which is tomorrow.

In February, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 179-20 to approve legislation demanding the University divest its endowment from fossil fuels. The final motion that passed included an amendment introduced by English professor James T. Engell ’73, which added that all future endowment investments should be subjected to a “system of decarbonization” in order to meet “internationally agreed standards of emission reduction.”

According to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton, the announcement Bacow made to faculty on Tuesday aligns with the intent of the Engell amendment; similarly, the 2050 time frame aligns with the goal of the Paris Agreement, an international climate accord, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

In addition, Harvard has become an official supporter of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which seeks to increase transparency in corporate reporting of climate-related financial risks, according to the press release.

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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