The Governing Body of St Hilda’s College has recently approved changes to the College’s investment policy, aimed at aligning the college’s investments with the challenge of climate change.
The approved changes, which were initially recommended by the St Hilda’s JCR Divestment Working Group, ensure that the business plans of companies in which the college (indirectly) invests are compatible with efforts to tackle climate change in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. The companies must be “fully cognisant” of the impacts of the associated carbon emissions reduction targets on their businesses.
After a period of engagement, companies which remain incompatible with this criteria will be divested from, as will be companies with more than 5% exposure to coal and tar sands.
A statement released by St Hilda’s on Tuesday read: “Progress towards these targets will have major impacts not only on fossil-fuel exploration and production companies, but also on primary users of these fuels, such as power generation and distribution, transportation, and others.
“These impacts will inevitably include the potential for reduced financial returns to investors and so the College has not only a moral interest but also a fiduciary interest in encouraging these companies to recognise the critical importance for society of the emissions targets and the need for realistic plans to meet them and to address the consequences for their businesses.
“The College believes that this active ownership approach will ensure it is doing what it can to support the aims of the Paris Agreement while at the same time protecting the College’s long-term financial interests.”
The policy change will consist in the redirection of the college’s long-term investment funds into the Climate Active Endowment Fund. The Fund is overseen by an independent expert advisory panel and bases its policy of active engagement on the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment.
St Hilda’s College Environment & Ethics Officer and leader of St Hilda’s Divestment Campaign, Rupert Stuart-Smith, told Cherwell: “We are delighted that the College has accepted our proposals to redesign its investment policy to take on the challenge of climate change.
“This policy extends to all companies, rather than the fossil fuel industry alone, which is the usual target of divestment campaigns, and follows discussions with the Governing Body Investment Committee since Michaelmas 2015.
“We believe that our approach is a more powerful tool than traditional divestment. In exerting its influence on the business practices of all companies in which it invests, St Hilda’s is aligning its investments with its values and applying meaningful pressure on firms who must change their business practices if we are to avoid the devastation that climate change threatens.
“While I was delighted by the enthusiasm with which this proposal was ultimately accepted, passing unanimously in Investment Committee, our focus going forward will be to ensure that this policy is adhered to and that the college continues to critically assess the performance of the fund manager in assessing firms’ compatibility with the policy, engaging with targeted companies, and divesting from those that continue to fall short of our requirements.”
St Hilda’s action preceded that of Oriel College JCR, which voted this week to support the college’s divestment from fossil fuels. The motion passed unanimously, with one abstention.
Both college-based divestment developments follow the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign’s (OCJC) meeting with vice chancellor Louise Richardson earlier this week, where OCJC members delivered Richardson 169 letters demanding fossil fuel divestment.
OCJC member Julia Peck told Cherwell last week: “What we’re imagining [as a campaign] is a wave of thirty colleges making decisions to divest based on the overwhelming student opinion, and then the University seeing that all of the parts under it are making the right choice in terms of climate justice. This would put the University alone on the top, in an antiquated position.
“I think students make up colleges in a way we don’t think we make up the University. The structures of the University are vaguer, they’re much less transparent and accessible to us as students, whereas colleges feel like your home.
“Students have a special leverage in colleges, where they’re able to sit down with their bursars and have a frank conversation about what they want their community to look like and about how we match our investment practices with our values.”