University of California ranked first among universities worldwide in climate change investment

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Student campaigns such as Fossil Free Cal, shown here at a protest on Sproul Plaza in October 2013, have been urging divestment from fossil fuel-related companies by the university. A Graduate Assembly resolution also calls for divestment by the campus and university.

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The University of California ranked first among all universities worldwide in incorporating climate change risks in its investment decision making, according to findings released Monday by an independent organization.

The Global Climate 5oo Index, which is determined by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, graded asset owners on three key areas — engagement, carbon risk management and low carbon investment. The UC system received the highest possible AAA rating, placing it well above Stanford and Yale, the next two universities on the list, which were both given the lowest passing grade of a D.

“I think UC tries to be a leader in every area, and climate change is one of the things that demands tangible solutions, global leadership and efficient approaches” said UC Spokesperson Claire Doan. “It is important to serve as a global leader to show other universities what we can do to be responsive to the global concern of sustainability.”

The university ranked 17th overall among all investment funds — eight spots above its position in 2015. According to AODP CEO Julian Poulter, the index provides stakeholders a rating to indicate how major asset owners are managing their exposure to climate risk.

“There is plenty of money to fix climate change” Poulter said. “Our question is how can we get these very large sums of money and get asset owners to use it where it is needed.”

In November the university announced the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which aims to make UC campuses completely carbon neutral by 2025. Additionally, the university has been working with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to promote development of innovative energy technologies.

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Doan said the award confirms the work that the university has done in prioritizing concerns about the environment and in investment practices that display its intention to think in a long-term manner.
Several student activist groups like Fossil Free UC, however, have criticized the university for its investments in fossil fuel and tar sands oil companies.

In September, the university sold off direct holdings of nearly $200 million in coal and tar sands-focused oil companies, but continued to hold investments in fossil fuel companies. According to ASUC Senator Wes Adrianson, the university should commit to divesting completely from “unethical operations like fracking and oil extractions that are destroying the ecological system around us.”

Adrianson added concerns that the ranking was an example of the university  “doing a great job of cultivating its publicity to make sure it looks good.”

“We’re in classrooms every day learning about public health or stopping climate change or bettering the economy, yet fossil fuel industries (go) against all of those,” said campus junior and Fossil Free Cal member Claire Morrison. “To not stand against such an industry is not only hypocritical, but also morally wrong.”

Contact Jennifer Kang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenni_kang