The student body presidents of all eight Ivy League institutions signed a joint resolution on Thursday, calling for “full fossil fuel divestment.”
The resolution, authored by the Student Sustainability Association at Penn (SSAP), calls for an end to new investments in the fossil fuel industry by Fiscal Year 2021 and complete divestment by Fiscal Year 2025.
The resolution defines fossil fuel divestment as ending investments in any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies by size of reserves; in any company that explores for, extracts, processes, refines, or transmits coal, oil, and gas; and in any utilities whose primary business function is to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity, based on definitions from climate activism group 350.org.
Vyshnavi Kosigi, Co-Chair of SSAP and a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the rationale behind these criteria in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
“Following these actions would beyond any doubt constitute fossil fuel divestment and don’t leave much wiggle room to get around that,” she wrote.
“The other important factor we stress is the timeline, because the endowment managers are always trying to convince us that it’s more difficult than it looks and that it has to be a multi-decade process, when in reality it simply doesn’t,” Kosigi added.
The resolution cites a number of reasons to divest, opening with the statement that climate change is “a global crisis that is a paramount threat to the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations necessitating bold, immediate action.”
Christian Potter ’22, current Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president at Princeton, told the ‘Prince’ he signed based on “overwhelming support from the student body of last winter's divestment referendum and the pressing nature of the climate crisis.”
In a USG election last November, 82 percent of voters supported a referendum calling for the divestment of Princeton’s endowment from fossil fuels.
Potter also referenced the ongoing work of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Resources Committee, which has been considering a divestment proposal since February 2020 and is expected to release recommendations to the Board of Trustees this May.
“While the resolution is Ivy-League-wide, here at Princeton the CPUC Resources Committee is engaged in effective collaboration with Divest Princeton, and we look forward to seeing the results of that process,” Potter said.
Kosigi wrote about the importance of having the joint resolution coming from student body representatives as opposed to activist groups alone.
“It’s much easier to dismiss the idea as a fringe desire when the visibility is primarily coming from an affinity interest. But in reality, the vast majority of students and faculty at our schools are in favor of full fossil fuel divestment, and that’s just not addressed enough,” she wrote.
Ryan Warsing GS, Co-Coordinator of Divest Princeton, told the ‘Prince’ that he viewed the resolution as “symbolically powerful and a good reminder that more than half of the Ivy League has yet to meaningfully divest.”
“It's another example of the well-informed youth movement demanding action from collegiate leaders who really ought to know better,” he wrote.
As of now, Cornell has a moratorium on fossil fuel investments, while Columbia declared non-investment in oil and gas in January 2021 and divestment from coal in 2017. Brown is selling its direct investments as of March 2020, and the University of Pennsylvania announced that it would no longer have direct investments in some fossil fuel industries. Yale has set strict standards for investment in fossil fuels and will partially divest.
Harvard has committed to making its endowment carbon neutral by 2050, a timeline Divest Harvard has deemed “insufficient,” and the Dartmouth administration has not made any divestment commitment.
“Princeton, for its part, is alone with Dartmouth in having made no effort to divest whatsoever,” Warsing added. “We're glad to see our friend and USG President Christian Potter representing the overwhelming number of undergraduate students who agree that Princeton must divest and dissociate from this malignant industry.”
Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss deferred comment from the University to an opinion article written by Jim Matteo, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer of the University.
In the article, Matteo outlines the CPUC Resource Committee’s work since receiving Divest Princeton’s petition and writes that the process “is designed to ensure divestment and disassociation proposals receive a full, careful review, with input from stakeholders across the University community.”
The joint resolution was inspired by a similar resolution authored by climate activists at the University of Michigan calling for all Big 10 schools to divest from fossil fuels, which was passed by student body presidents of all 14 Big 10 schools in January 2020.
This story was updated to include reference to Harvard’s net-zero endowment commitment.