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Resources Committee recommends criteria for fossil fuel divestment

<h5>The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Resources Committee, a group of students, staff, and faculty tasked with considering divestment proposals, will recommend that the University Board of Trustees divest and dissociate from the highest-emissions sectors of the fossil fuel industry, as well as from fossil fuel companies that currently either deny climate change or spread climate disinformation.

At a CPUC meeting on May 3, committee chair and geosciences professor Blair Schoene shared the Resources Committee’s list of four recommendations for the Board’s Committee on Finance to consider, which may detail the future of Princeton’s relationship with fossil fuels.

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“Princeton University should dissociate from fossil fuel companies that deny climate change and/or spread climate disinformation” is the first action. Dissociation, Schoene explained, would include divestment of direct and indirect financial investments, cutting of on-campus funding ties, and no longer purchasing products from those companies.

Schoene said the University seeks to align itself with scientific consensus regarding climate change, and that the Resources Committee views climate disinformation as at odds with the institution’s truth-seeking mission.

“Companies who act in direct contradiction to that should be reconsidered for partnerships,” he said.

Schoene explained, though, that the University currently, and for the immediate future, would be unable to entirely disassociate from fossil fuels.

Andrew Somerville / The Daily Princetonian

The second recommendation details that dissociation from “the highest greenhouse gas-emitting sectors of the fossil fuel industry” should be prioritized by the Committee on Finance.

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“There are sectors of the fossil fuel industry that can be dissociated from on the shorter term; we should pursue that as quickly as possible,” Schoene said.

Sectors of the fossil fuel industry that do not fall under the descriptions outlined in the first two recommendations are considered in the third.

“Princeton University should establish criteria for conditional dissociation from fossil fuel companies that have not undertaken an acceptable path towards carbon neutrality as guided by scientific recommendations,” the presented slides read.

Schoene told CPUC attendees that given the immediate necessity of the relationship between Princeton and the fossil fuel industry, the Committee believes that the University must seek out relationships with fossil fuel companies that share their values. The most important of these values, he said, is the goal to achieve carbon neutrality in the near future.

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The last recommendation details the implementation of the three above-mentioned actions. 

“The Resources Committee recognizes that each of the other recommendations will involve more work; firming down criteria that can help Princeton evaluate each company is important,” Schoene said.

The recommendation details that “criteria should not be based on past behavior of companies, but instead on their current and prospective actions.”

Schoene expressed that the priority of these recommendations is to build morally effective relationships with companies moving forward, not to “police the past.”

The recommendations will be finalized and submitted to the Committee on Finance by May 10, and Schoene said that the Board of Trustees can then decide to follow any, all, or none of the recommendations submitted.

When asked the effects that this recommendation will have on the University’s endowment, Schoene explained that the Resources Committee does not operate on a financial basis, which is intentional. 

“The Resources Committee makes decisions based on a moral and ethical ground,” he said. 

Schoene also explained that the recommendations were all made based on three guiding principles that the Resources Committee follows.

Recommendations will be made if there is “considerable, thoughtful, and sustained interest on campus,” a “direct and serious contradiction with a central University value,” and “consensus on how the University should respond,” according to Schoene’s presentation. He pointed to a recently-passed undergraduate referendum, where 82 percent of voters indicated their support for divestment, as an indicator of consensus surrounding the issue.

Some in attendance expressed concerns with the recommendations. Several attendees questioned whether the University should consider divestment and dissociation as tied together in this case, suggesting that the University could still divest its endowment from the industry even if not able to entirely disassociate with the product.   

“To connect divestment with dissociation strikes me as inappropriate in this case,” noted CPUC Executive Committee member and ecology and evolutionary biology professor David Wilcove. “I wonder if there is a way for the Resources Committee of the Board of Trustees to rethink the way divestment must be tied with dissociation.”

In a statement to the Daily Princetonian, co-coordinator for Divest Princeton Anna Hiltner ’23 said “It is important to recognize the work of students, alumni, faculty, and others in the Princeton community who have contributed an enormous amount of labor to help the university get to this point.”  

However, she continued, “In the face of a climate crisis that threatens the lives of us all, today’s recommendations are not enough.”

The CPUC meeting was held virtually on Monday, May 3 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

This story is breaking and will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. 

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