Climate Action at Barnard

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. The stakes for our planet have never been higher: the world is warming, impacting communities across the globe. Barnard graduates are entering a world in which all of us must grapple with the scientific, environmental, health, and economic challenges posed by climate change. As an academic institution, Barnard must prepare its students to meet these challenges and ensure they are equipped to help identify solutions to climate change that are grounded in scientific evidence. The College is accomplishing this task through a three-fold strategy:

  • Finding evidence-based solutions to the problems posed by climate change by Barnard’s world-class faculty with students (see here and here for more information on faculty and alumnae engaging in this work);
  • Building on Barnard’s already strong foundation to become more sustainable and reduce its own carbon emissions; and
  • Divesting the endowment from fossil fuel companies that misrepresent or in other ways sow misinformation about the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and human activity causes it.

Divestment: Where we started

In December 2015, Barnard’s Board of Trustees authorized the formation of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment. The creation of the Task Force followed several months of conversations among students, faculty, administrators, and the Board on how best to address the College’s relationship with fossil fuels. In March 2017, the Task Force recommended, and the Board agreed, that the College divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies that “deny climate science or who otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.” The Task Force concluded that climate change represents a real threat to the environment and that Barnard, as a global citizen and an organization that educates future leaders, needs to do its part to mitigate its impact. For years some fossil fuel companies and their advocates have questioned the settled science that human activity is causing changes to our climate. By sowing misinformation about climate science, some in the industry obstruct scientific progress and hinder efforts for society to find solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

In making this decision, the Board considered not only the research of the Task Force but the overwhelming consensus of the students, faculty, and alumnae that the College take action in light of the impacts of climate change.  

The Board of Trustees also agreed that focusing on companies that question or misrepresent climate science is consistent with our mission as an academic institution. Barnard College is devoted to the free flow of information, the furtherance of research that produces new knowledge, and the use of evidence to inform and find solutions to serious public policy issues such as climate change. In this regard, the Task Force noted that “investing in companies that actively distort climate science findings, deceive the public, or block efforts to accelerate a transition to a cleaner economy constitutes an affront to Barnard’s mission as an academic institution.” By divesting holdings in companies that question settled science, Barnard is aligning its investments with its academic and scientific values. In doing so, the College is seeking to create incentives for companies to embrace the scientific consensus and become more accountable for the impact of their decisions on climate change. 

Barnard is the first college to take the unique and innovative approach of divesting from companies that question climate science, reinforcing its historical leadership role in environmental science research and education around climate issues.

Where we are today: An Update

Following the Board’s divestment decision in March 2017, a working group of students, faculty, and trustees conducted research to develop clear and rigorous criteria to evaluate companies' statements, actions, and attitudes towards climate science and climate change. Barnard then partnered with FFI and the Union of Concerned Scientists to evaluate 30 oil and gas companies on their views of climate science and climate change. Over the past several months, FFI and UCS have been evaluating these companies to measure the extent to which these companies’ words and actions support the open exchange and accurate promotion of climate science, as well as demonstrate an urgency to act and be transparent with respect to climate change. The goal is to produce a Climate Action List of the 30 companies that will help guide our investments toward companies that perform better and away from those that perform worse. 

Our work is ongoing, and we are excited to share preliminary materials with our community. Please find links to the following materials that illuminate Barnard’s process:

Over the coming months, we will work with our Outsourced Chief Investment Office, Strategic Investment Group, on a divestment approach based on the FFI/UCS analysis.

Barnard is breaking new ground with this unique approach. We acknowledge this is an evolving process and that our methodology will continue to be refined over time. We are interested in hearing from the community on our progress to date and invite your feedback as we move to the next phases of implementation. Please send questions or comments to climateactionlist@barnard.edu.

Background

Read the full report from the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment. 

Additional Information & Resources