UN Climate Chief Urges Universities to Divest from Fossil Fuel Industry

Framework Convention on Climate Change.
April 22, 2014 – UN climate chief Christina Figueres wants universities to divest from fossil fuel companies.

In a statement delivered at Brown University last week, the Costa Rican diplomat warned that it was harmful to argue that one institution divesting from the fossil fuel industry won’t make a difference.

“The thought that removing investment from coal on the part of one small institution is inconsequential and therefore not to be pursued, is analogous to the dangerous sentiment that in the context of a democratic system one vote is irrelevant because it does not constitute the majority,” she said.

“Or, in the context of an academic institution such as this distinguished one, it is analogous to the unacceptable belief that the education of one student is unimportant because a single student does not effect change,” Figueres added.

There is a growing movement on university campuses demanding endowments divest from the fossil fuel industry including a petition from faculty at Harvard calling on the Ivy League school to re-allocate its almost $33 billion holdings in the the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies to socially-responsible funds.

The latest IPCC report says that the planet is warming even faster than predicted in its previous report and that sea-levels could rise three feet at current rate by century’s end.

The report says increasing emissions, 80 percent of them caused by fossil fuels, are already melting the Arctic, acidifying oceans and harming crops.

Global greenhouse gas emissions—mostly a result of burning coal, oil and natural gas—need to be cut 40 to 70 percent by 2050, the report says, for humankind to face better than 50-50 odds of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

The World Health Organization predicts that the effects of climate change on health will cost $2-4 billion per year by 2030 with major killers such as diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, malaria and dengue expected to worsen as the climate changes.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell