Illustration by Lisa Bizuneh

The UC just made history by pledging to enact the largest fossil fuel divestment from a public institution to date, a goal students have campaigned for years to bring about.

UC Chief Investment Officer and Treasurer Jagdeep Singh Bachher and UC Regents Investments Committee Chairman Richard Sherman wrote in a Sept. 17 Los Angeles Times op-ed that the UC’s pledge to drop fossil fuels comes after five years of planning. 

Despite political overtones in student-led demonstrations for divestment, Singh Bachher and Sherman stated the UC’s divestment is financially motivated due to fossil fuels posing long-term risks for the institution’s investment portfolios.

Many divestment advocates still consider the UC’s recent pledge a success for environmentalism.

“This was a confluence of strong faculty sentiment against investment in fossil fuel companies and a UC investment decision to move out of the sector,” said UCSC environmental studies professor Brent Haddad. “Both faculty and investment managers see the energy future as focusing on sustainable sources.”

Some student organizers are disappointed that the UC has distanced itself from taking a more radical stance on the climate crisis and worry the work of activists is being overshadowed.

“They wanted to make our successes their successes,” said Sydney Quynn, a student organizer for the UC Santa Cruz chapter of Fossil Free UC. “[The UC] wants to make it seem like students and activists have no power over the institution.” 

That being said, the UC’s pledge is a colossal step on the path toward clean energy for university institutions.

The UC plans to replace their fossil fuel investments with a $13.4 billion endowment that is fossil-free, meaning the university’s future investable assets will not include fossil fuel companies. The UC also plans to enact a $70 billion fossil-free pension for UC employees, signifying that pensions funds, too, will not have investments in fossil fuels.

“[Divestment] won’t bankrupt big oil companies, but it does stigmatize these fossil fuel-burning institutions,” Quynn said. “UC has challenged the status quo and makes it clear that [burning fossil fuels] is no longer acceptable.”

Proponents of divestment hope the UC’s decision will cause a ripple effect. The shift models how other universities could transition from investment to divestment without fear of compromising their finances. 

“This move helps provide leadership to other universities and investors thinking about divesting [in fossil fuels],” said associate environmental studies professor Adam Millard-Ball, “and also demonstrates it is possible for a large investor like UC to do the right thing and invest in its values.”

UCSC has also made efforts on a campus level to limit the effects of the climate crisis. Its goals include achieving carbon neutrality by 2025 and implementing Bending the Curve and Zero Waste 2020 programs. These UC programs all decrease the carbon footprint of the campuses and reduce the amount of waste created.

Student groups on the campuses, such as UCSC’s Student Environmental Center and Education for Sustainable Living Program, are continuing to work towards making the UC more environmentally-friendly. Fossil Free UC persists in ensuring the UC commits to divesting.

“I’ve been angry for years that we’ve been ignored and disregarded,” said Sydney Quynn of Fossil Free UC, “and now I’m so grateful that the university has made this step. Despite their [fiscal] goals, the UC should be applauded for this.”