Board of Trustees rejects Fossil Free divestment proposal


Daily file photo by Emma Edmund

Last week’s ACIR meeting in Guild Lounge. Students expressed concerns at the time over the lack of a trustee decision on Fossil Free Northwestern’s divestment proposal.

Emma Edmund, City Editor

The Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees rejected Fossil Free Northwestern’s divestment proposal calling for the University to divest from any of the top 100 coal and oil and gas companies, the committee announced in a Thursday statement.

The proposal, which was recommended for board consideration by the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility in June 2019, also called for Northwestern to reinvest in non-fossil fuel companies, particularly those with an emphasis on renewable energy.

The decision comes just days after Fossil Free Northwestern held a die-in protest and environmental justice teach-in as part of Global Divestment Day, criticizing the University’s financial investments and instructing others about the impact of the fossil fuel industry on marginalized communities.

The Investment Committee wrote in their statement that the proposal did not meet the divestment criteria outlined in the Statement on Investment Responsibility. That statement was adopted by the board in November 2019, several months after Fossil Free had submitted its proposal to the board.

“The Investment Committee does not believe the proposed divestment would generate tangible and positive change toward FFN’s goals related to climate change,” the statement regarding the decision said. “The recommended sale of Northwestern’s holdings in these firms would not have any impact on the ability of the targeted companies to conduct their businesses.”

Divesting would not change the demand for fossil fuels, the statement also said, which it argued is the true determiner of fossil fuel companies’ products.

In 2015, the board also rejected another Fossil Free Northwestern proposal, one that solely called on the University to divest from coal companies.

Other peer institutions have chosen to partially or fully divest from fossil fuels, including Georgetown University and Stanford University. J. Landis Martin, the chair of the board, said other schools’ divestment decisions and the impact of climate change are both factors the Investment Committee likely considered.

The statement points out other contributions to the fight against climate change Northwestern has made, from signing the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment and incorporating “environmental, social and governance” principles into investment decisions.

Still, however, the divestment proposal and its advocates argue that Northwestern is ignoring the negative impact of climate change by continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies.

“By investing in these industries, Northwestern is ignoring the desperate call of last resort to save our planet — plans to reduce fossil fuel emissions and switch to renewables must begin immediately in order to meet these goals,” the proposal said.

This story will be updated.

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