Should Universities and Pension Funds Divest from Fossil Fuel Stocks?


By: Gregg Badichek

7th January, 2015

The campaign encouraging shareholding entities to divest their holdings and funds from the stocks of fossil fuel companies has grown from a loosely affiliated grassroots confederation into a national—arguably global—movement deserving of major media coverage. It targets universities, pension funds, foundations, and religious institutions, among other groups. In the realm of university campaigns, students and occasionally alumni typically aim to pressure the school’s fiduciaries to divest for political or moral reasons.

It is against this background that the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University hosted a panel at Columbia Law School on Monday, November 24, 2014. The event, moderated by Professor Michael Gerrard, a renowned environmental lawyer and Director of the Sabin Center, featured both proponents and opponents of divestment. The guiding question was deceptively simple, and served as the event’s title: Should Universities and Pension Funds Divest from Fossil Fuel Stocks? Ancillary issues were likewise prominent, such as whether divestment is consistent with the fiduciary duties of trustees; whether divestment is the best way for investors to influence corporate behavior; the effects of divestment on portfolio value; and the tactic’s place in the corporate social responsibility movement.

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