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Responding to University Carbon-Neutral Pledge, Activist Groups Reiterate Divestment Demands

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard occupies University Hall in February. Alongside faculty and alumni organizations, the student group sent a letter to top administrators calling on Harvard to divest by 2021.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard occupies University Hall in February. Alongside faculty and alumni organizations, the student group sent a letter to top administrators calling on Harvard to divest by 2021. By Jenny M. Lu
By Ellen M. Burstein and Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writers

After Harvard pledged to transition its endowment to carbon-neutral by 2050, fossil fuel divestment activists wrote a letter to University administrators Wednesday urging them to take “drastic climate action.”

In a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation William F. Lee ’72, and members of the Corporation, student, alumni, and faculty groups who favor fossil fuel divestment called on Harvard to divest by 2021 and to adopt more transparent investment policies.

The letter, which was signed by Divest Harvard, Harvard Forward, Harvard Alumni for Divestment, and Ad Hoc Committee on Harvard Divestment, was endorsed by Harvard Faculty for Divestment and Harvard Medical School Faculty for Divestment.

The groups called on the University to divest from all direct holdings of fossil fuel investments by June 2021 and all external holdings by 2025.

“Commit now to full divestment of direct and co-mingled holdings in the fossil fuel industry,” the letter reads. “Ensure that divestment of assets under Harvard’s direct control is carried out as soon as possible, and by June 2021 at the very latest, and that all external investment managers and consultants comply as soon as possible, and by 2025 at the very latest.”

Asked for comment on the demands, University Spokesperson Jason A. Newton referred to Bacow’s original letter to faculty announcing the school’s commitment.

“As noted, the strategy we plan to pursue focuses on reducing the demand for fossil fuels, not just the supply, an action consistent with the University’s overall commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations,” Bacow wrote at the time.

The signatories wrote that Harvard’s carbon-neutral pledge “failed to represent the overwhelming majority of the student body, along with thousands of alumni and faculty members. "Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment in February; days later, Harvard Medical School professors also passed a resolution urging the University to divest.

The letter also calls on Harvard to disclose “the scope of Harvard’s fossil fuel investments,” and its holdings’ “carbon footprint,” on a regular basis.

“Commit now to interim goals that include reducing the endowment’s carbon emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030 as compared to 2010 levels,” the letter states. “This should account for all emissions — from resource extraction to end use — involved with Harvard’s indirect and direct investments.”

The letter states that Harvard should not include carbon offsets in its calculation of carbon neutrality. It also calls for a more transparent selection process for students, faculty, and alumni who sit on the Presidential Committee on Sustainability and Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility.

Harvard Forward, an alumni organization advocating for the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry, has previously campaigned for increased transparency in the University's governance board elections. The campaign has put forward five candidates for the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body.

The signatories also demand that the University “stop hiding the imprint of the fossil fuel industry on Harvard’s campus.” They wrote that faculty should be required to disclose research and event funding and professional ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The letter calls on Harvard to be a leader in clean investment.

“Seek out and take advantage of investment opportunities that support a rapid and just transition to a clean energy economy,” the letter reads.

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

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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