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January 25, 2021

Columbia University to stop fossil fuel investment

Columbia University has published a statement that it currently “does not hold any direct investments in publicly traded oil and gas companies and is formalising this policy of non-investment for the future” in a bid to fight climate change.

By Yoana Cholteeva

By “recognising the grave threat to the planet that is posed by climate change and the importance of transparency in the use of its financial resources”, the university has adjusted its policies with a revised set of principles for the Columbia University Investment Management Company (IMC).

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger said: “There is an undeniable obligation binding Columbia and other universities to confront the climate crisis across every dimension of our institutions.

“The effort to achieve net-zero emissions must be sustained over time, employing all the tools available to us and engaging all who are at Columbia today and those who will follow us in the years ahead. This announcement reaffirms that commitment and reflects the urgent need for action.”

The amended policy recognises that certain oil and gas companies aim to transition their businesses to net-zero emissions by 2050, so the university may make an exception to its non-investment policy when a credible plan exists for a company to do so.

Columbia has been at the forefront of recognising the negative effects of the changing climate and harnessing resources to mitigate it, including through practical engineering and technology, which can be applied by those seeking to reduce emissions outputs.

Along with its 2017 decision to divest from thermal coal, the university’s new investment approach aligns with its academic and research commitment to the cause, including the creation of the Columbia Climate School in 2020.

In addition to formalising Columbia’s limiting of investments in publicly traded oil and gas companies, the announcement pledges that the university will also avoid making new investments in private funds that primarily invest in oil and gas companies.

Consistent with the updated guidance, the IMC will expand its evaluation of investment managers across sectors to assess whether they have plans to create portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.

Columbia sees opportunities to use the capabilities of its IMC, the Climate School, and other university resources to assist managers in further developing these plans. In addition, the IMC will intensify its focus on investments in developing technologies that contribute to net-zero emission and greenhouse gas reductions, while continuing to meet the IMC’s risk and return objectives.

President Bollinger and the board of trustees said that the actions adopted have been encouraged by “a thoughtful and nuanced recommendation for the board’s consideration” by a committee of faculty, students, and alumni.

In its recommendation to the president and the board, the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing emphasised that the oil and gas sectors are not the sole contributors to climate change. The university’s non-investment policies will be evaluated periodically, and possibly expanded in the future to sectors that merit further scrutiny due to their heavy greenhouse gas emissions.

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