Harvard University President Larry Bacow on Thursday announced it will pull its $42 billion investment from fossil fuel industries, making it one of the wealthiest and most prestigious institutions to do so.
In a letter, Bacow said the university has already withdrawn all direct investments in fossil fuel companies and will also foreswear any future investments, as well as allowing indirect investments through private equity to expire.
Bacow also said Harvard has set a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by July of next year.
Highlighting the urgency of climate action, Bacow pointed to recent extreme weather in the U.S., from wildfires and heatwaves on the west coast to Hurricane Ida’s impact on both the Gulf Coast and the northeast. He also cited the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report warning of a narrow window to avert catastrophic warming.
“The last several months have laid at our feet undeniable evidence of the world to come—massive fires that consume entire towns, unprecedented flooding that inundates major urban areas, record heat waves and drought that devastate food supplies and increase water scarcity,” Bacow wrote. “Few, if any, parts of the globe are being spared as livelihoods are dashed, lives are lost, and regions are rendered unlivable.”
The announcement follows a concerted campaign by student activists, who have called for divestment through protests and sit-ins as well as a legal complaint earlier this year. In March, the group Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard alleged the university’s investments were a violation of the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, which governs investments by nonprofit institutions.
The group also faulted the university for failing to use the specific term “divest” and alleging that it “still remains afraid to fully sever ties with the fossil fuel industry.”
“That cowardice and its deadly consequences should not go unnoticed; Harvard continues to propagate a false notion of ‘engagement’ with the fossil fuel industry around decarbonization when, as our organizers have pointed out time and again, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that fossil fuel companies are not embracing, have no plans to embrace, and are even endeavoring to block a just transition away from fossil fuels in alignment with Paris Agreement goals to curb dangerous and irreversible levels of planetary warming,” the group said.
Despite the pledge, she said, the administration has not put forth a timeline for indirect investments that is "swift and reflective of what climate and environmental justice demands."
Cohen also addressed the group's focus on the university itself rather than pressuring the private equity funds in question.
“Harvard has an outsized amount of power and influence,” she said. "It’s a big client, it’s got a vast endowment and it’s an institution with immense social prestige. It needs to set a tone of leadership by only working with partners who are fossil fuel-free.”