Student Assembly Resolution 32

Sponsored by: Rebecca Macies ‘14, Anna-Lisa Castle ‘14, and Sarah Balik ’14

Whereas, Cornell strives towards the goals of its mission by fostering “initiative, integrity, and excellence, in an environment of collegiality, civility, and responsible stewardship,”

Whereas, Cornell University “supports research, scholarship, and the practical application of knowledge that address one of humankind’s greatest challenges: achieving a sustainable world for all”

Whereas, The extraction, transportation, and combustion of fossil fuels has a detrimental impact on human health and the environment,

Whereas, Cornell is committed to reaching carbon neutrality of the Ithaca campus by 2050 through the Climate Action Plan (CAP),

Whereas, New facilities and outreach programs like Lake Source Cooling, the Combined Heat and Power Plant, CALS Green, and the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee have been well-received, successful steps toward this goal,

Whereas, the University’s sustainability efforts thus far have earned a celebrated STARS Gold rating;

Whereas, adoption of these responsible investment criteria project no negative, nor long-term major financial impact on the endowment and are within the scope of feasibility and implementation,

Be it therefore resolved, that Cornell align its ideals of good stewardship, commitment to sustainability, and application of knowledge with University investment practices as a means of extending its “service to our alumni, the community, the state, the nation, and the world”,

Be it further resolved, that Cornell divest from direct holdings and commingled funds in the fossil fuels industry by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year to broaden CAP and sustainability goals,

Be it further resolved, that Cornell commit to and achieve the following milestones as it moves toward full divestment by 2020: 20% divested by the end of the 2013 calendar year and 50% by the end of the 2016 calendar year.

Be it further resolved, that Cornell reinvest 30% of the divested amount in sustainable funds, specifically positively screened companies and commingled funds by 2030.
Respectfully submitted,

Rebecca Macies
Co-President, KyotoNOW!

Anna-Lisa Castle
Co-President, KyotoNOW!

(Reviewed by: Environmental Committee, 11/08/2012)


Divestment has precedence.

  • Universities hold more than 400 billion in endowments; a movement that takes money out of fossil fuels could have a huge impact.

○      Divestment campaigns initiated to successfully combat South African Apartheid caused students on college campuses across the country to revise the way they thought about their endowment and how it is used. The success of these campaigns spurred a global paradigm shift in the ethics of investing. Cornell was one of over 150 colleges and universities to divest from South Africa and has also pledged to divest from conflict minerals.

○      Cornell can become a leader of the climate justice movement by divesting from fossil fuel industries and causing a new paradigm shift that focuses on the need for a sustainable future. Coal, oil, and natural gas will not only contribute to the global climate crisis, but are also non-renewable and thus projected to become more costly and much more difficult to extract in the near future. Thus, Cornell stands not only to become a leader in the movement against climate change, but also has the opportunity to get ahead of the game by finding financially sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel investment as we surpass “peak oil” and other fossil fuels begin to run out.

  • “In 2011, the University conducted a screen of its portfolio to determine its exposure to seven companies involved in producing oil in Sudan as part of an ongoing divestment program. The University subsequently sent letters to the relevant investment managers notifying them of the University’s Sudan divestment policy. For managers with investments that Cornell controls directly, the University requested that the appropriate securities be divested.” (Cornell STARS Report.)

This is part of a national movement.

  • There are active divestment campaigns at Harvard, Swarthmore, Earlham, Middlebury, Tufts, Brown, and forty-three other other campuses.
  • Hampshire College and Unity College have both recently divested.
  • Best-practices can be shared among these schools in order to promote successful and strategic divestment. As a member of the Ivy Plus group, we have a network that we can use to learn from one another.

Divestment is feasible.

Green Investment is viable.

  • “The strength of renewable technologies was demonstrated in 2008-2009, when electricity generation from renewable resources expanded by 8% in the U.S. while the total net generation declined by 4%. During this period, total U.S. electricity capacity rose only 1.5% but renewable electricity capacity rose 9.2% and consumption of all major fuels also declined, but renewable energy consumption increased by 5.4%.” (White paper, pp. 28)
  • Renewable energy is seeing an upward trend: last year set a record high for renewable energy investment globally, despite the recession.
  • Solar is on the rise: Global investment in solar power jumped 52% last year spurred by falling component costs.

■      Harvey, Fiona. “Global investment in renewable energy at record high.” Guardian . 11 2012: 1. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.

As for divesting…

Coal is a good place to start.

○      The Executive Summary can be found on page 4

The profitability of natural gas has been reported by some as overestimated.

Strategic divestment:

  • We are working to change Cornell’s divestment policy by instituting new guidelines to move our endowment away from fossil fuels. The divestment/investment strategy itself would be left to the expertise of the Investment Committee and investment office.

○      The University may consider targeting specific companies in commingled funds. The below attachment provides a list of the 16 companies that some in the divestment movement have come to consider the worst threats to the planet. In the case that Cornell begins to negatively screen funds that include specific companies, we strongly urge the University to divest from these companies immediately.


Sustainability matters to students and matters to Cornell.

  • According to USA Today, as of last year, 69% of college applicants said that campus sustainability is a factor in their decision to apply to or attend a school.
  • The AASHE STARS program is a self-reporting rating system for sustainability. STARS is among the most reputable rating systems for American colleges and universities. Cornell has earned a celebrated gold score and has the opportunity to become the first ever to win a platinum rating by amending its investment practices to move toward a sustainable endowment.

Divesting from fossil fuels is a moral imperative.

  • Climate change, for instance, directly threatens human life and health and resources to sustain life as well as species of plants and animals and ecosystems around the world. The harms include deaths from disease, droughts, floods, heat and intense storms and damage to homes and villages from rising oceans and intense storms, adverse impacts on agriculture, social disputes caused by diminishing natural resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where one has lived to sustain life. In addition, the very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change caused seal level rise. Clearly these impacts are catastrophic for some.
  • Scientific conclusions published after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report (IPCC 2007) indicate that not only are greenhouse gas emissions rising faster than IPCC’s worst-case scenario but that observed impacts exceed those projected (Allison et al. 2009, Levin and Tirpak 2009, New et al. 2011)
  • According to the IPCC 2007 Synthesis Report, several major scientific studies conclude that avoiding serious and irreversible consequences of global climate change is plausible, but only if urgent actions are undertaken by developed nations, which means that greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak prior to or not later than around 2020 and then decline at an annual rate of six percent or more, eventually reaching a level close to zero if equity between developed and developing nations is to be honored (Anderson and Bows 2008, Ramanathan and Feng 2008, Baer et al. 2009, WGBU 2009, den Elzen et al. 2010, New et al. 2011).
  • “If their college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree” – Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone, include at the end (McKibben, Bill. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”Rolling Stone. 02 2012: 5. Print.)
  • Cornell is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 and we cannot claim to be successful if we continue to support the fossil fuel industry with our institution’s endowment. (Climate Action Plan. 2012

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