Divest U.Va. released a petition Oct. 8 demanding that the University pull endowment funds from fossil fuels in its second letter to administration this year. Divest U.Va., a group composed of students and student organizations, has been fighting for climate justice through fossil fuel divestment since 2015.
Divest U.Va. last wrote an open letter to the Board of Visitors in May 2020 calling for the University’s full divestment from fossil fuels, but given the ongoing pandemic, the organization decided to delay certain advocacy efforts so that the University could prioritize providing pandemic-related support.
On Tuesday, Student Council passed FR 21-13, “A Resolution Supporting Divestment of the University of Virginia’s Endowment from the Fossil Fuel Industry,” sponsored by Fourth-Year Batten Representative Rand Perry. The legislation cites grassroots organizing from Divest U.Va. and the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition — organizations which have publicly advocated for fossil fuel divestment since 2015.
The most recent petition is a continuation of previous efforts and calls for the University Investment Management Company — a third-party company that manages the University’s various assets — to release a transparent report regarding the University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry by Dec. 1, full divestment from companies whose profit primarily comes from fossil fuel extraction by Jan. 1 of next year and complete fossil fuel divestment by the end of 2022.
“Our dollars are being invested and used to finance the principal cause of the climate crisis,” the petition reads. “Our endowment investments should reflect our values, not the unjust power structures that we publicly decry. It is long past time that the University upheld its duty to our community and the environment. U.Va.’s refusal to take a stand threatens our future.”
While the full contents of the University’s investment portfolio are unavailable to the public, UVIMCO’s annual reports reveal to some extent where money is distributed. The University’s endowment currently stands at $14.5 billion — a near 50 percent increase from $9.9 billion the previous fiscal year. Investments in fossil fuel companies fall under “real assets,” which also include retail and hospitality investments. These make up 10 percent of the University’s endowment.
By investing a portion of its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, Divest U.Va. wrote in its petition that the University has directly contributed to the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions. In 2019, fossil fuel combustion accounted for 92 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.
The University is currently in the middle of a sustainability plan that — among other goals such as reducing water usage and waste by 30 percent compared to 2010 — aims to make the University carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil-fuel-free by 2050.
An annual report on the progress of the sustainability plan shows the University’s Energy and Utilities team is continuing the process of converting higher temperature hot water systems to lower temperatures, which reduces the consumption of fossil fuels by allowing the University to use more energy efficient heat pumps.
“The University believes it can most effectively impact climate change through continued investment in teaching, research and operational sustainability initiatives,” University spokesperson Brian Coy said.
The University originally set a goal to reduce overall emissions by 25 percent by 2025 but met that goal early in 2019. In 2020, the University saw a 43.9 percent decrease in overall emissions compared to the baseline in 2009.
An Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility was established by UVIMCO in December, Coy said, consisting of members from both UVIMCO and the University.
“The committee will consider issues raised by University stakeholders regarding the application of environmental, social, corporate governance or similar potential considerations in UVIMCO’s investment decisions, and offer an initial set of conclusions and recommendations by the end of the calendar year,” Coy said.
As of Tuesday, Divest U.Va.’s petition has garnered nearly 800 signatures. Members of Divest U.Va. and a panel of professors will be hosting a political education event discussing fossil fuel divestment Thursday at 7 p.m. in Nau Hall 101.