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April 17, 2015
Harvard Students Mount Blockade in Campaign for Divestment
    by Robert Kropp

The Divest Harvard demonstrators block access to administrative offices during Harvard Heat Week as analyses of the university's investments find significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions.


In 2014, after a year-long period in which student activists called on it to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies, Harvard University announced that it had become a signatory to the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), thereby becoming the first US-based university endowment to do so.

At the same time, Harvard also announced that it would report it greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to CDP, the international standard for GHG emissions disclosure. But if these otherwise admirable moves toward transparency had as an ulterior motive the dismantling of the Divest Harvard movement, last week's Harvard Heat Week demonstrations made clear that they did not succeed. And two recent analyses of the university's portfolio indicate that its holdings include a substantial amount of GHG emissions.

First, the analyses.
Fossil Free Indexes reported that Harvard's endowment—the largest university endowment in the nation—“is estimated to finance more than 100 million tons of potential CO2 emissions from the reserves of fossil fuel companies.” And the South Pole Group, commissioned by Divest Harvard and 350.org, estimated that the GHG emissions from the university's holdings exceeds 11 million tons of CO2.

Harvard's holdings, according to Fossil Free Indexes, include equity in Anadarko Petroleum, Petrobras, Range Resources and Vale. If the reserves on the books of these four companies were to be consumed, it would result in 11 gigatons of GHG emissions.

“In case there weren’t enough reasons why Harvard should divest, South Pole Group’s report shows that this administration’s intransigence has worsened climate change,” Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said.

(In a 2013 letter rejecting the students' call for divestment, Harvard President Drew Faust wrote, “I believe we should favor engagement over withdrawal. In the case of fossil fuel companies, we should think about how we might use our voice not to ostracize such companies but to encourage them to be a positive force both in meeting society’s long-term energy needs while addressing pressing environmental imperatives.” Yet the extent to which the university practices engagement is unclear; a resolution filed with Anadarko this proxy season, requesting that the company report on stranded assets, does not include Harvard as a co-filer.)

During Harvard Heat Week, demonstrators blocked access to Massachusetts Hall for six days; also, according to the Harvard Crimson, “alumni supporters of Divest Harvard occupied the Harvard Alumni Association headquarters on Mt. Auburn St. for about two days; on Tuesday, the group blocked off all the entrances to University Hall for about four hours, and on Thursday, the group again blockaded University Hall, that time for the full work day.”

Faust refused to meet with protesters until they ended their blockade, which the protesters refused to do. But given her narrow view of fiduciary duty as outlined in her 2013 letter—“We maintain a strong presumption against divesting investment assets for reasons unrelated to the endowment’s financial strength,” she wrote—it is difficult to envision an evolution on the university's part in which divestment is embraced.

On the final day of the protests, Leslie Samuelrich, President of
Green Century Capital Management, spoke in favor of divestment. Green Century excludes fossil fuel companies from its mutual funds portfolios.

“Even if Harvard University was only motivated by financial considerations and not its leadership position in the world, there are compelling reasons to move its investments out of the fossil fuel industry,” Samuelrich said. “The case is based on performance, dividend payments and the volatility of the energy sector, as well as the potential for devalued or stranded assets.”

 

 
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