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Drive to get global university endowments to back Exxon/Chevron climate resolutions

Fledgling group called Positive Investment targets 27 top universities

Students at Cambridge University in the UK are driving a campaign to get major university endowments across the world, including Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, to commit to voting in favour of climate change proposals at US majors Exxon and Chevron.

This year has seen an unprecedented number of climate change proposals filed at fossil fuel companies in the US, the most well-known being Exxon and Chevron who collectively face nine climate change related resolutions this month.

The most high profile resolution has been filed at Exxon by the Church Commissioners and the New York State Common Retirement Fund calling on it to publish an annual assessment of long-term portfolio impacts of public climate change policies.

Other climate change proposals filed at both Chevron and Exxon centre around returning capital to shareholders to avoid ‘stranded assets’ and disclosing lobbying.

In support of these proposals, Cambridge students, through fledging group Positive Investment, are leading a campaign to get 27 of the world’s leading educational institutions to commit to voting in favour. It comes as the University of Utah became the latest academic institution to commit to divesting from fossil fuels.

Speaking to RI, Farhan Samanani, a student at Cambridge and one of the coordinators of the group, said it was focusing on university endowments as they represented a significant amount of wealth and clout, and their reputations went a long way in making moral statements.The plan is to get faculty members at each endowment to send an open letter to their CIO asking them for the commitment to vote in favour of the resolutions.

Open letters have already been sent to relevant people at Cambridge and Harvard. Leading responsible investment figure Robert Eccles, from Harvard Business School, has signed up to the campaign.

“Our campaign will be a litmus test for their commitment to ethical stewardship.”

Samanani added that the campaign would be a test for universities’ reactions to student divestment campaigns. “Many have said they will not divest but they agree with student concerns and will act further on the issue. Our campaign will be a litmus test for their nominal commitment to ethical stewardship.”

Samanani is a Gates Scholar from Canada studying for a PhD in Social Anthropology under a programme set up in 2000 with a $210m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has found its own stance on fossil fuel investment coming under scrutiny in recent years.

In addition, Positive Investment is promoting an open letter to at least 1,000 signatories from the academic and financial worlds to be director at Exxon and Chevron’s major shareholders, as well as the top voting advisory companies. Link