BREAKING: Boston University Announces Divestment from Fossil Fuels
This morning, September 23, 2021, President Robert Brown announced that Boston University would no longer invest funds from its more than three-billion dollar endowment in fossil fuels. The university will immediately halt commitments to new and direct investments in fossil fuel companies or fossil fuel-focused projects. Boston University will divest from its current direct investments in fossil fuel extraction especially in carbon-intensive fuels, coal, and tar sands, immediately as well. The university will also divest from other fossil fuel investments (including indirect investments) and prioritize investing funds in clean and renewable energy over the next decade.
Boston University stated that this was necessary to mitigate climate change and further its Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan is the university’s effort to become carbon neutral by 2040 through multiple endeavors: the BU Wind Project launched at the end of 2020, geothermal walls to heat and cool new developments, and addressing energy efficiency at the university. The university’s sustainability initiative also provides research and innovation grants to promote sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.
This decision comes hot off the heels of Boston University’s neighbor, Harvard University, who announced earlier this month that it would be divesting from fossil fuels. These announcements have begun to follow the pattern of other top-tier universities across the globe such as Brown, Cornell, Oxford, and Cambridge, which have also announced divestments from fossil fuels. Many of these schools, including Boston University, have cited the current climate crisis as the primary rationale for moving forward with divestment. Additionally, many of these universities have faced growing pressure from their student bodies to divest from fossil fuels with organizations such as DivestBU demanding accountability from the administration. DivestBU is an organization active in promoting divestment through petitions, protests, and other means.
DivestBU has accomplished the focal point of their organization but their fight is far from over. When asked for comment, they stated "we are very thankful for BU’s increased commitment to move their investments away from the harmful fossil fuel industry. However, we do wonder why it took so long when as they say their direct investments were "economically inconsequential." We also believe a 10-year timeline is too generous when considering the harmful effects of fossil fuels, and therefore will continue pushing BU to expedite this process. We also want BU to increase their transparency, and will therefore simultaneously push for a more transparent form of accountability, especially since as our reinvestment proposal outlined, we want them to create a social impact fund as part of their divestment."
Other students have demanded alongside DivestBU that Boston University do more. Stephanie Leon-Rodriguez (CAS '22) responded that "the timeline is too lax," and the university ought to adjust the projected timeline of becoming carbon-neutral to 2030 rather than 2040. Boston Political Review staff writer, Lea Kapur (CGS '20, CAS '22), commented that the divestment "is great and exciting for the university, but BU should consider reevaluating in three years and try to end all divestments sooner than the decade timeline." It seems the current student body and DivestBU will continue to push Boston University to hold its end of the bargain in response to the ongoing climate crisis.
Nonetheless, this is a massive step for Boston University and other universities. Other top-tier universities in Boston, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, and Northeastern University, still have yet to divest from fossil fuel investments. Northeastern made headlines in 2016 when it announced that it would not be divesting from its fossil fuel investments but would invest more in renewable energy. Boston College, a private Catholic institution, refused the Vatican’s calls in 2020 to divest from fossil fuel extractions and companies as "it does not view divestment as a viable response to climate change." MIT is likely to be the next university in Boston to follow suit and announce divestment, especially as they have recently announced that they are committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2026. If MIT commits to divestment, combined with Harvard and BU’s decisions, it might be the push needed for reluctant Boston College and Northeastern to divest. Boston is the nation’s largest ‘college-town’, so these announcements may serve as a microcosm of the challenging decisions that universities nationwide will be forced to make in the coming years.
Editor's Note: At time of publishing, DivestBU had not yet responded for comment. The article has been updated to include DivestBU's response to the Boston Political Review's request for comment.