Harvard increases fossil fuel investment despite calls to divest


The world’s richest university Harvard has invested ten of million of dollars in fossil fuel companies during the third quarter of 2014 despite calls for divestment from the institution’s students and staff.

The figures have led to several faculty members voicing their concern that investment returns are being justified at any cost, even if it negatively impacts the university’s students.

According to the Guardian, Harvard has increased its investment in fossil fuel companies from $11.8 million (£7.7m) to around $79.5 million (£52m) during the third financial quarter of 2014. The single biggest investment went to Anadarko Petroleum, which was involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and stood at $57.4 million (£37.7m).

The figures come from an analysis conducted by Divest Harvard of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. However, it is noted that Harvard’s full investment in fossil fuels companies is likely to be larger than the figures suggest, as SEC filings only cover direct investments and only a small fraction of Harvard’s $34 billion (£22.3bn) endowment is invested directly.

Back in April 2014, 93 professors from the university signed an open letter that labelled the president’s attitude to climate change as “contradictory” and argued that divesting from fossil fuels is an act of “ethical responsibility”. Despite signing the Principles for Responsible Investment and setting up a $20 million (£13m) climate fund, the school has maintained that it will not cut fossil fuels out of its portfolio.

In November, a group of students filed a lawsuit against Harvard for what they called “mismanagement of charitable funds”.

In a new petition from five Harvard faculty members, which has been seen by the Guardian, Harvard is called on to review its position on fossil fuels as a growing number of universities and philanthropic institutions have done.

The petition states, “In striking contrast to these other institutions, Harvard has newly invested ten of million in publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Can putting tens of millions in companies like Anadarko be regarded as responsible sustainable investment – investing that befits a charitable corporation dedicated to scientific truth and ethical education?”

It adds, “We are among a growing number of concerned faculty who questions the idea that investment returns are justified at any cost, including the enormous cost our students and future generations will need to pay for what the fossil fuel industry is doing now and – more importantly – for what it is planning and lobbying to do.”

The campaign Divest Harvard, which is spearheaded by students at the university, calls for the immediate freeze on any new investments in fossil fuel companies, immediate divestment from direct holdings of the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies, and divestment of indirect holding in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years.

Over the last five years universities, and particularly those in the US, have faced increasing pressure from students and staff to cut out fossil fuel investments. An increasing number are responding by fully or partly divesting, including Stanford and Pitzer College.

Photo: See-ming Lee via Flickr 

Further reading:

Harvard academics rally for ‘ethically responsible’ fossil fuels divestment

Fighting climate change is a moral obligation, Seattle mayor tells Harvard president

Harvard finance arm creates sustainable investment role

Harvard to sign Principles for Responsible Investment and set up $20m climate fund

Students criticise Harvard’s ‘false neutrality’ over fossil fuel divestment