University of California Goes Fossil Free

NewsUC System

Photo of windmills
Martins Zemlickis / Unsplash

Written by:

UC Chief Investment Officer (CIO) Jagdeep Singh Bachher announced that the UC has completely divested from fossil fuels, having sold $1 billion in assets from all its investment portfolios. Bachher made the initial announcement at the UC Regents’ Investment Committee meeting on May 19. 

“I’m happy to announce that actually as of today, the endowment, the pension, and all of our working capital pools are fossil free at the University of California,” said Bachher at the Regents meeting. “In fact, you could extend that to say that our $125 billion in assets are fossil free.”

Bachher claims that this move towards divestment began when the Office of the CIO sold $200 million in the UC’s coal and oil assets in 2015. According to Bachher, they decided to divest because they found that fossil fuel investments posed a considerable financial risk to the UC’s portfolios. 

“We don’t look at oil and gas as a goal that has to be accomplished by a certain amount, to reduce a certain amount of investment,” said Bachher. “We look at it as a financial risk or a financial opportunity.”

This is not the first time Bachher has discussed the financial impact of fossil fuel investments. In September 2019, Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Bachher and Chairman of the UC Board of Regents’ Investments Committee Richard Sherman in which they announced the UC’s intentions to divest its endowment and pension fund from the fossil fuel industry. Despite mounting pressure from student activists across the UC system, Bachher and Sherman emphasized that this decision was made purely on financial considerations.

Since the release of the LA Times op-ed, climate climate activists have expressed concerns that the UCOP’s decision to divest was made purely on financial grounds rather than moral reasons. Furthermore, they have long criticized Bachher for lacking transparency in his claims regarding the UC’s investments and the specific terms of divestment.

UCSD Psychology Professor Adam Aron and graduate student Monica Nelson released an op-ed in response to the UC’s announcement on May 20 to voice these same concerns. Both are organizers with Green New Deal at UCSD, a climate action organization on campus.

In the op-ed, Aron and Nelson state that by choosing to “de-risk” its investments, the University is still not making a clear commitment to divestment. They claim that it would be difficult to determine whether or not the UCOP will reinvest in fossil fuels because there is not enough transparency about which of the University’s investments are still exposed to fossil fuels.

They urge the University to provide greater transparency by releasing a full listing of all its investments with fossil fuel companies and promising that it will actively avoid reinvesting in fossil fuels in the future.

“We are calling on the university to truly divest, as a matter of urgency. It is not enough to avoid fossil fuel investments because they are risky at a time when the world is in pandemic shutdown,” said Aron and Nelson. “The concentrated energy in oil and gas will always make them attractive to investors who are prepared to gamble with the future of the planet. The University of California can and should do better.”

Since 2013, students, faculty, and community members in the Fossil Free UC movement have advocated for fossil fuel divestment. Climate activists across the UC system are continuing to pressure the University into taking more action against the climate crisis by making more concrete commitments to emissions reductions and sustainability.

“Going forward [Green New Deal at UCSD] will be looking for evidence that substantiates this claim that the endowment and pension funds are now ‘fossil free’ and holding the UCOP accountable if we find otherwise,” said Nelson in an email to The Triton. “We will be pushing for a true commitment to divestment which recognizes the moral imperative, not just the financial imperative, to divest from the fossil fuel industry.”

Julianna Domingo is a News Staff writer, you can follow her @coolyannaa.

Correction June 17 11:32 am: In an earlier version of the article, the name of the organization Green New Deal at UCSD was incorrect. We apologize for this error.