Harvard University said Thursday it would stop investing in fossil fuels following nearly a decade of activism from students and faculty who said pulling the school’s $42 billion endowment was a key step in the fight against climate change.
Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a letter that the school no longer had any direct investment in companies that explore for or develop fossil fuel reserves and planned to make no such investments in the future. Any indirect investments through private equity funds will be allowed to lapse.
He stopped short of using the word “divestment” — the term environmentalist have touted for institutions that pull funds from carbon-emitting industries — but the shift amounted to a dramatic change in tack after years of school leadership refusing to even consider doing so.
Harvard’s endowment is the largest of any university on earth, and fossil fuels currently make up about 2% of its total investments.
“Given the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent,” Bacow, who became president in 2018, wrote to the school community. “None of us will be spared the realities of climate change, which means we are all in this together. Global progress will depend on a collective effort to see one another not as adversaries but as partners, not as caricatures but as people.”
Bacow himself had opposed divestment in 2019, The Harvard Crimson notes, but the school has taken other steps to address climate change. The fund that manages the endowment, the Harvard Management Co., had pledged to achieve net-zero emissions in its investments by 2050. The school on Thursday also appointed its first-ever vice provost for climate and sustainability.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a key group that for years urged the university to shift its investments, hailed the news, calling it a massive victory not just for the university community but also for “the climate movement, and the world.”
“It took conversations and protests, meetings with administration, faculty/alumni votes, mass sit-ins and arrests, historic legal strategies, and storming football fields,” the group wrote on Twitter. “But today, we can see proof that activism works, plain and simple.”
Divest Harvard said it would continue to press leadership to follow through on the pledge as quickly as possible.
“This announcement is a massive victory for activists and for the planet,” the group said. “Much more work remains, of course — and our movement will be here to make sure that for Harvard, it’s only a beginning when it comes to building a more just and stable future.”