UC DIVESTS DIRECT HOLDINGS FROM COAL AND TAR SANDS
What began in 2008 has culminated in an important campaign victory. For several years, the California Student Sustainability Coalition’s student, alumni, and staff leaders have addressed the issue of unsustainable and unethical fossil fuel investments in the University of California (UC). Having first explored responsible investment frameworks and continuing with an initial exposé on the UC’s investments in the top ”filthy 15” coal companies, the campaign evolved to demand divestment from ALL fossil fuels. After years of strategic campaigning and dedicated student organizing, the Fossil Free UC campaign has reached an incredible milestone:
Late Wednesday afternoon on September 9th, the University of California’s Investment Office announced that it has divested $198 million of the university’s nearly $100 billion portfolio from coal mining and oil companies focused on tar sands extraction. This was in addition to their commitment of implementing sustainable investing criteria across their investment portfolio.
At the UC Regents’ Committee on Investments meeting, Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Bachher outlined: “We’ve gone one step further as part of our housekeeping and managing risks over the course of the year, and selling our direct holdings, to reiterate, in coal mining companies, oil sands focused companies.” This announcement comes just one week after the California State Legislature passed a bill requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS, the nation’s largest public pension funds, to divest from thermal coal stocks.
While we applaud their decision, let us not forget that student leadership was the fundamental impetus and catalyst for this victory.
The university administration has not acknowledged students as the reason they have divested from coal and tar sands. Having campaigned for 3 years – and cultivating political and organizing roots for longer- the UC’s decision followed in response to sustained student pressure, including powerful escalation this past spring across the country at a dozen schools including UC Berkeley, Harvard, Bowdoin and Swarthmore.
Yesterday’s divestment announcement came through the university’s Framework for Sustainable Investing, which was a product of a task force charged with investigating divestment last summer after responding to students’ pressure. “This is a hard-fought victory for students and our allies from across California who have been demanding the UC truly live up to its big talk on climate change,” said Jake Soiffer, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and leader with Fossil Free UC.
In the last three years, the Fossil Free UC campaign has passed student government resolutions supporting divestment at all ten UC campuses, as well as graduate student and faculty association resolutions at Berkeley, and support from the UCSB Academic Senate. This year, students ramped up the campaign through a series of coordinated protests across the UC campuses—including an overnight sit-in outside the chancellor’s office at UC Berkeley.
Despite student pressure, the regents are still profiting off of the oil and gas industries, which are major polluters in California. According to Soiffer, “This is a much needed first step, but oil and natural gas are the most powerful polluters in California, and we expect the UC to take robust action on the biggest climate villains in their backyard.”
Though the announcement is not accompanied by an official policy statement, students see this as a permanent shift in the operations of the investment office. “This is a big deal, and an important first step that takes $200 million away from companies like Peabody — but we need our schools to take a stance against Exxon and Shell too. They’re every bit as responsible for the climate crisis.” said Alden Phinney, undergraduate student at UC Santa Cruz and organizer with Fossil Free UC.
Fossil Free UC will continue pushing the UC to divest fully, including oil and gas, and reinvest that money back in the hands of communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Victoria Fernandez, recent UC Berkeley graduate and organizer with Fossil Free UC, shared, “If the regents are serious about climate solutions that means not just divesting from fossil fuel companies, but investing in a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards the non-extractive economy. There is no stopping this movement. We have glimpsed a future of dignity, justice and sustainability, and we are determined to make it real.”
Silver Hannon, California Student Sustainability Coalition’s Fossil Free UC Campaign Director and recent UC Berkeley graduate, underscores the call to action in this moment, “Our university has said they agree we must combat climate change but disagree on the means to do so. Because of the urgency of our fight, we need to use all the tools we have to fight for climate justice. We are pushing full force to demand the UC fully divest its holding from fossil fuels and reinvest in community-based solutions for a just and livable future. Was this a huge victory? Yes. Does this mean we will rest on our laurels? Absolutely not.”
Many students who have worked on this campaign were introduced to it through the California Student Sustainability Coalition. If you would like to be part of this evolving campaign please contact CSSC’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Director, Silver Hannon.
Divestment is a tactic for a much deeper struggle for climate justice; it is our vision to utilize the UC system’s position and resources to exhibit the values and models that are essential to cultivating a truly regenerative society and equitable economy.
This Fall there are two opportunities to engage and push this campaign forward:
On November 6th-8th CSSC will be hosting a special Fall Leadership Retreat open to anyone and everyone who would like to shape the future of the organization. Divestment is one very powerful focus of CSSC; this is an opportunity to learn about more ways to engage with our statewide community of organizers and to build deep relationships with likeminded people.
On October 9th-11th in Berkeley, CA the Divestment Student Network and California Student Sustainability Coalition are co-hosting a California Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence! We want to support students who are running active fossil fuel divestment campaigns by providing in-depth training, building a regional network, and getting used to relational organizing. We hope to ground the work we do on our campuses in principles of solidarity, environmental justice, and in our relationships to frontline communities. Learn more about the tactic of divestment and see how we can play our part in the climate justice movement. We encourage women, people of color, queer/trans self-identified, low-income, undocumented, and/or people with disabilities to attend. Come be a part of the network and get trained! The deadline to register is September 11th, 2015 To register, please contact your campus lead, who will provide you with the registration form.
Fossil Free UC Students, Alumni, and Staff members
California Student Sustainability Coalition