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Key Objective: 9.1 Divest from Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuel companies are defined as companies that profit from the extraction, transportation, or combustion of coal, petroleum, or natural gas. The production and use of coal contribute to environmental, social, and health issues, leading to irreversible ecological damage. The university currently invests less than 1% of its portfolio in coal utility and mining companies and has already divested its direct holdings in coal. As an institution that prides itself on being "a model of sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental friendliness for the world to see," it is imperative that the university's values and commitment to combating climate change are reflected in all of our investments. By divesting from fossil fuel companies, the university will reduce its contributions to and association with the negative environmental and social impacts attached to fossil fuel companies. Trends also suggest that the change in the economic market, especially as a result of COVID-19, supports a positive financial decision to divest. To ensure financial stability and cease contributing to climate change and social injustice, the University of Illinois must enact a plan to replace all of its investments in fossil fuel companies with financially stable and ethical investments as soon as possible, and then reinvest in more sustainable companies.
The university has been discussing fossil fuel divestment since 2009 when students formed a group called “UIUC Beyond Coal.” Since then, the campaign has continued under Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS) as “Fossil Free UIUC.” Fossil fuel divestment has been formally recommended by the Joint Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Licensing and Investment in 2017 and a resolution passed in 2019. In August 2017, students sent a memo to Chancellor Jones “expressing our unanimous position that the university ... should set a date within the next decade for complete divestment from coal utility and coal mining companies.” Chancellor Jones’ October 2017 reply noted, “this is a complex and interconnected financial network that crosses a number of different governance lines within the University System.” He also stated: “I will share your report with President Tim Killeen and with UIF President Jim Moore and initiate conversations with them about the next steps we might take to move ourselves toward a more sustainable footprint while maintaining the financial stability we require as a university.” He has verbally supported divestment multiple times since.
The University of Illinois Foundation manages the endowment with an independent board. While neither the chancellor nor the university president can make this decision for the University of Illinois Foundation, they can clearly state their support of fossil fuel divestment and specifically request a change from the decision-making authorities. Through this iCAP objective, we will work with the Office of the Chancellor to draft a letter encouraging divestment. The letter will be from Chancellor Jones and will be sent to all responsible parties involved in the decision to divest, including the University of Illinois Foundation, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, President Killeen, and those responsible for the portion of the endowment housed in the president’s office. Divesting from fossil fuels is a significant step to turn our environmental commitments into actions.