Media Advisory – UH Divestment

UH Divestment Group Photo

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents, working with faculty and students, voted to divest their endowment from oil, coal and gas.

University of Hawaii System divests from fossil fuels

10-campus, 57,000-student UH System largest university yet to divest

HONOLULU–May 21, 2015–The University of Hawaii voted Thursday to divest its $66 million endowment from coal, oil and gas companies, making it the largest university yet to join the worldwide divestment movement.  The Board of Regents cited both “a moral and leadership rationale” and “a long term economic argument” for its decision [1].

The 10-campus UH system, with 57,052 students [2], is the 30th higher education institution to divest since Maine’s Unity College first withdrew its money in November 2012 [3].  Worldwide, over 200 colleges and universities, cities and counties, religious institutions and foundations have pledged to move fossil fuel investments elsewhere [3].

“The Board approached its discussion on divestment with the spirit of collaboration,” said Randy Moore, UH Board of Regents Chair and member of the Task Group on Divestment and Sustainability.  “The divestment task group was comprised of faculty, students, administrators and board members.  The result was a superb collaborative effort and the final outcome represented the best of shared governance.”

The task group acknowledged that divestment itself will not directly reduce emissions of the gases causing global warming, but “concludes that the value of divestment is to galvanize the University community as well as the greater community, to take action to invest in the production of alternative energy (such as wind and solar), to make energy-saving investments, and to change institutional as well as individual behaviors” [1].

The Board of Regents will immediately begin divestment from companies that produce fossil fuels and complete it by June 30, 2018, with “no/minimal increase” in fees.  Energy companies currently comprise 5% to 7% of UH’s portfolio, which includes only mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, and no direct investments [1].

The endowment is then to maintain no more than 1% of holdings in fossil fuels, and include investments that will provide alternative energy substitutes, where feasible.  UBS, the Board’s investment manager, sees more and more institutional investors seeking fossil fuel-free funds, and expects fees for them to eventually decrease [1].

The Regents will also establish an Office of Sustainability, and support the Executive Sustainability Policy of UH becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Graduate student Michelle Tigchelaar began the effort to divest UH by screening 350.org‘s movie “Do The Math” in September of 2013.  Community member and international climate activist Stuart Scott contributed the DivestUH.org website over the summer of 2014, and in October activist Brodie Lockard formed 350Hawaii.org to bolster the campaign by collecting and organizing testimony, and advocating via print, radio, online and social media.

Marine biology researcher and UH professor Dr. Joe Mobley organized much of the effort inside UH, and issue advocate Dr. Dawn Webster led communications for the campaign, to which a score of others contributed.

“350Hawaii is very gratified that the Regents have taken this bold step,” said Mr. Lockard.  “It should inspire other institutions, across Hawaii and around the world.”

Together, DivestUH.org and 350Hawaii.org collected 1,330 signatures supporting divestment, and in January, Regent Jan Sullivan proposed the task group, which included students, faculty, administration, and Board members.

“This was the perfect model of climate activism,” said Dr. Mobley, who was the faculty task group member.  “Regents, faculty and students alike came together, shared their concerns over the scope and speed of climate change, particularly as it affects the Hawaiian Islands, then did something about it.”

Various reports from analysts like the Aperio Group [4], MSCI [5] and Impax Asset Management [6], as well as due diligence by the Guardian Media Group [7] and other companies, show that in light of the impending Carbon Bubble and the likelihood of “stranded assets,” divestment from fossil fuels protects the interests of investors as much as the health of the planet.

Among many other examples, the world’s richest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, recently divested its $850 billion from 114 companies on environmental and climate grounds [8].

350Hawaii.org is a local chapter of 350.org, which began in 2008 to build a global climate movement. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are coordinated by a global network active in over 188 countries.  The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.  This advisory is available at http://350hawaii.org/?p=274.

[1] http://www.hawaii.edu/offices/bor/finance/materials/201504011330/2._Report_by_Divestment_Task_Group_Regarding_Recommendations_on_Divesting_from_Fossil_Fuels_and_Board_Policies_Regarding_Sustainability.pdf

[2] http://hawaii.edu/iro/pdf/Fall_Enr_SSH.pdf

[3] http://gofossilfree.org/commitments//

[4] https://www.aperiogroup.com/resource/306/node/download

[5] https://www.msci.com/resources/factsheets/MSCI_ESG_Research_FAQ_on_Fossil-Free_Investing.pdf

[6] http://www.impaxam.com/media-centre/white-papers/beyond-fossil-fuels-investment-case-fossil-fuel-divestment

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/01/guardian-media-group-to-divest-its-800m-fund-from-fossil-fuels

[8]  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/05/worlds-biggest-sovereign-wealth-fund-dumps-dozens-of-coal-companies