UC Board of Regents committee votes to approve recommendation on continuing fossil fuel investment

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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SAN FRANCISCO — At its meeting Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents’ Committee on Investments voted to approve a recommendation from the UC task force on sustainable investing to continue the university’s investments in fossil fuel companies.

At the meeting, members of Fossil Free UC, a coalition advocating divestment, protested the recommendation’s proposal to not divest. The recommendation encourages the university to implement a framework for sustainable investment by the end of the fiscal year and invest $1 billion into green initiatives over the next five years. The full UC Board of Regents will vote on the recommendation Thursday.

“We sought to take a truly holistic approach and make recommendations that could have meaningful long-term impacts,” said Jagdeep Singh Bachher, UC chief investment officer and head of the task force.

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the majority of the task members, after looking at research on the issue, felt that divestment would not do much to alleviate the effects of climate change. The UC system currently invests $10 billion out of the $91 billion managed by the university in energy companies.

“(Divestment) would certainly have a negative effect on our portfolio as far as returns,” Klein said.

Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin attempted to make an amendment to the final recommendation that would insert language considering divestment from coal companies in the future, which ultimately did not pass.

As part of the recommendation, the university would sign on to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, a worldwide investor network dedicated to helping its members invest sustainably. The recommendation also proposes that the university integrate environmental, social and governance factors into its portfolio decisions.

“We’re absolutely committed to investing in our future,” Bachher said. “Making that commitment is the right thing to do in the long term.”

Members of Fossil Free UC assembled in a protest that began outside and continued into the meeting. Chanting slogans, the protesters held signs reading, “We are worth more than fossil fuels” and “Students not fossil fuels.”

According to Victoria Fernandez, a UC Berkeley senior and a member of both Fossil Free UC and the task force, students were not fairly consulted during the process leading up to the task force’s recommendation. She said while Greg Boyce, CEO of coal company Peabody Energy, was invited to lobby the committee, students were not given the chance to bring in experts, such as Don Gould, an asset manager and a Pitzer College trustee, to advocate divestment.

“Industry voice was being prioritized over the voices of advocates for divestment,” Fernandez said.

This year, Stanford University divested from coal companies, and Pitzer College removed all assets in fossil fuel companies.

Contact Hiep Nguyen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @_hiepn.