UC to create task force to explore fossil fuel divestment
By Jeong Park
May 23, 2014 2:09 am
The University of California is working to form a task force that will look at the possibility of divesting from fossil fuel companies, following numerous student protests and other major universities’ decisions to divest.
“It’s the issue that’s on the minds of many people and students have been expressing their concerns about it,” said Shelly Meron, a UC spokeswoman. “We want to look into it further.”
At the UC Board of Regents Committee on Investments meeting on Thursday, committee chair and Regent Paul Wachter said the task force will include regents, environmental consultants and outside investment advisors to the UC.
Wachter said regents have asked the UC’s new chief investment officer, Jagdeep Singh Bachher, to lead the task force.
Students have been pushing for the UC’s divestment from fossil fuel companies because they want the University to take action against climate change, said Ophir Bruck, a UC Berkeley student and student organizer with Fossil Free UC.
The burning of fossil fuels is seen by many as one of the biggest factors in leading to man-made climate change.
The creation of a task force does not mean the UC will definitely divest from fossil fuel companies. In the past, however, task forces have signaled the first step in deciding to divest. The UC also formed a task force before divesting from companies with holdings in Sudan in 2006.
Students from other universities have successfully been able to push their respective schools to divest from fossil fuel companies – mainly companies that mine and process coal.
After receiving many student petitions, Stanford University announced early this month that it will divest from companies that mine coal. Pitzer College announced in April its plan to divest from all fossil fuel stocks by the end of the year.
Despite numerous calls for divestment from various companies, the UC has been reluctant to change its investment policies. In the last three decades, the UC has chosen to divest just three times: from tobacco companies, from companies with holdings in Sudan after the Darfur genocide and from companies with holdings in South Africa during the apartheid regime.
“Using divestment as a tool is something that should be done rarely, if at all,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in an interview with the Daily Bruin editorial board last month.
UC policy states that the University will only divest from a foreign government when the U.S. government finds it is committing acts of genocide.
In a statement, representatives from UCLA said while it is important to acknowledge climate change, they believe divestment could limit its influence on fossil fuel companies, while also reducing the amount of campus revenues that would be available for student support.
Bruck said he acknowledges the goal of divestment is not to hurt the companies’ bottom line, but is instead to serve as a symbolic gesture. Out of the UC’s endowment of about $7.9 billion, about $39 million is invested in fossil fuel stocks.
“It’s a symbolic gesture but it would be shortsighted of us to downplay the importance of a symbolic gesture,” Bruck said. “We’re not fooling ourselves thinking that divestment will single-handedly solve climate change.”
During the regents meeting last week in Sacramento, UC Regents had generally cautious stances toward fossil fuel divestment, although some were more favorable of the idea than others.
“It can’t be a singular approach,” said Regent Hadi Makarechian during the meeting. “I’m not sure if this will get you there.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, who is an ex-officio regent, said in the meeting that, while divesting from all fossil fuel companies may be implausible, divestment from coal can be very credible.
When students from Fossil Free UC protested outside the Sacramento Convention Center, where the regents met last week, Regent Norman Pattiz called the demonstration a “valid cause to be interested in.”
“They have a little work to do on the method of presentation,” Pattiz said. “However, I don’t think there’s a bigger problem facing humanity than global warming. … And I would encourage us to find ways (to address it).”
Bruck said he hopes the task force will release an analysis of potential fossil fuel divestment over the summer. He also said Fossil Free UC is pushing for the regents to come to a vote on the issue of fossil fuel divestment by the board’s September meeting.
The concrete details, including when the task force will be formed, are yet to be developed, Meron said.
Contributing reports from Alex Torpey, Bruin contributor.