The university’s board of directors established a working group on fossil fuel divestment this month, which will discuss divestment with members of GU Fossil Free and the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility over video chat in preparation for the board’s vote on CISR’s proposal in June.
According to the board’s website, the mission of the working group is to “evaluate the CISR proposal and to make recommendations to the finance committee of the board.” The committee will allow members of the board to specialize on this specific issue. Four members of the group were present at the meeting, including Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs founding donor William Berkley, Mador AG’s Maurice B.W. Brenninkmeijer (GSB ’86), Catholic Health Association of the United States President and Chief Executive Officer Carol Keehan and Cristo Rey High School President Joseph P. Parkes, S.J. The other members, who were not present, are The Carlyle Group Managing Director Peter Clare, Potash Corp Senior Advisor William J. Doyle (CAS ’72) and Selectcom Finance President Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson.
Six GU Fossil Free members participated in a videoconference with four available members of the new working group Tuesday to discuss their initial proposal and how to distinguish fossil fuel companies. Conversations must be conducted over video chat because members of the board live across the globe.
Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh said that members of the board of directors will not comment on the discussions or vote until the conclusion of the process.
“As part of this process the working group will hear presentations from GU Fossil Free and CISR, to provide background on their positions and recommendations,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
According to Pugh, other university officials, including Georgetown’s chief investment officer, will analyze CISR’s recommendations and serve as a resource for the working group’s questions and concerns.”
In January, the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility voted against GU Fossil Free’s proposal for the university to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, and recommended an alternative plan to the board of directors, which included targeted divestment, strategic engagement and the creation of a working group to further discussions on divestment.
Since releasing their initial proposal in August 2014, GU Fossil Free has participated in rallies and other forms of protest. Most notably, the group stormed a board of directors meeting in mid-February and stormed the stage during an event featuring World Bank Group President Dr. Kim Yong Kim to increase awareness about their divestment goals.
During the presentation, GU Fossil Free members explained the reasons for divestment from oil and gas, in addition to coal. In their recommendation, CISR recommended the practice of targeted divestment, which would only target coal companies.
GU Fossil Free member Grady Willard (SFS ’18), who presented at the meeting, said that the presentation helped the group clarify the divestment process to the board.
“We talked about common misconceptions about divestment, so this presentation was a little bit more technical,” Willard said.
GU Fossil Free member Elaine Colligan (SFS ’15), who also presented during the video chat, said that the working group agreed that the university should undertake divestment as a course of action.
“They did not doubt climate change, they did not doubt the moral imperative, they did not doubt the Jesuit imperative, they did not express any concerns about fiduciary responsibility impeding this,” Colligan said. “As numerous studies have shown, divestment does not affect endowments, and if it does it’s 0.01 percent. So there was nothing about ‘Is divestment good for the university? Should we do it?’”
Colligan said that the board’s main concern was the process with which GU Fossil Free determined the target fossil fuel companies in their proposal, but that the board members did not question the value of divestment.
“The issue of divestment was not debated,” Colligan said. “What they did ask was why we used the metric of proven carbon to be emitted in fossil fuel companies’ reserves, instead of reserves to production ratio.”
According to Colligan, GU Fossil Free used the common carbon metric in order to predict the amount of carbon burned over time by the company. This metric universalizes carbon measurements to allow for accurate companrisons.
“Fossil Free Indexes use this metric because it represents over time which companies have the most amount of carbon that they will have an incentive to burn,” Colligan said.
However, Colligan said that she was later informed by the Chairman and Founder of Fossil Free Indexes Stuart Braman that the two metrics would produce the same list of the top 200 companies.
Willard said that he was content with the outcome of the meeting.
“It sounded like they had done a lot of research into the topic and they said that our proposal inspired them to look at the bigger picture of how they could be more socially responsible with [their] investments so we’re hopeful and we’ll see in two months,” Willard said.
Willard also said that he expects GU Fossil Free to continue working closely with the working group before the next board meeting in June.
“We are continuing to have meetings with administrators to get more information on ways we can interact and communicate all the research we have gathered, the knowledge we have gathered, over the next two months,” Willard said.
Colligan said that although the board of directors has not communicated directly with GU Fossil Free on the decision-making process, she is confident that they will conduct a vote on divestment during their meeting in June.
“I am very confident that some sort of vote will come up. They have not given us a commitment, which we believe is unjust in the democratic process and not transparent and we’re not happy about that,” Colligan said. “But indications from higher ups have said there might be a vote. … We got word that the board would probably vote … yes on coal [divestment].”
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