‘Concrete next steps’ to address fossil fuel investments coming, regents say


The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents will share “concrete next steps” next month aimed at investing the university’s endowment funds “in a way that contributes to the essential transition to a low carbon economy.”

Regent Mark J. Bernstein made the announcement during the board’s Feb. 18 meeting, nearly one year after the governing body halted new direct fossil fuel investments. Regents meet next on March 25. 

“The climate crisis presents substantial energy transition- and climate change-related financial risk,” Bernstein said.  “We endeavor to effectively address that risk while continuing to support the university’s missions of teaching, research and service through university investments.”

Regents have been studying the university’s investment policy since announcing a pause on new direct fossil fuel investments Feb. 20, 2020. That has included meeting with representatives from peer universities and experts in sustainable investing, as well as listening and learning from activists and advocates within the U-M community and beyond, said Bernstein, adding that dozens of students, staff, faculty and community members have spoken on the issue at board meetings.

“We deeply thank them all for their advocacy, which has been critical toward our understanding of the importance and urgency of this topic,” he said.

Bernstein’s assurance comes as the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality finalizes a set of recommendations on strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions.

A draft report released in December outlined a number of actions that would help the university achieve, among other goals, carbon neutrality for emissions resulting from on-campus sources across all three campuses by 2025.

The commission hosted a number of virtual events and an online public comment portal in January for students, staff, faculty and community members from across the university and surrounding communities to weigh in on the draft recommendations.

Meanwhile, the Graham Sustainability Institute’s Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program recently awarded $1.75 million in funding to seven 1- to 2-year projects involving U-M faculty and researchers. The selected projects address energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, public opinion, behavior and equity.

Last month, the Office of Campus Sustainability shared its annual sustainability goal update which showed that the university has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent from a 2006 baseline. Campus officials said U-M will meet its goal of reducing emissions by 25 percent by 2025 early.



  1. Noah Weaverdyck
    on February 19, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    I look forward to these concrete next steps — if only they had been started ten years ago!

    I encourage the regents to look to the UC system, which:

    1. Completed full fossil fuel divestment last year (including retirement funds),
    2. Is a signatory to the UN’s Principles of Responsible Investment, incorporating ethical guidelines to ensure its investments align with the University’s values
    3. Diverted more than $1 billion of investments into the clean energy sector, with the equivalent of ~4.6 *million* new solar panels directly attributable to this.

    (Lest anyone reading question what all of this will cost, the UC endowment outperformed U-M’s in all of the 1 year, 5 year and 10 year time frames.)

    Unfortunately, the U-M investment office sank $1/4 billion into new fossil fuel investments in 2018 alone. Most of these are illiquid investments that only “mature” (i.e. pay back) after 10-12 years — i.e. in ~2030, at a point when global emissions will have needed to be already slashed in half.

    I hope the regents outline a clear policy to quickly divest all existing fossil fuel investments, formalize ethical standards to guide future investments, establish a standing committee with broad representation to proactively advise the regents on the potential ethical implications of investments, commit to achieving a net-zero investment portfolio, and hire a CFO who will champion these efforts. These are all steps that have been taken by peer institutions before us.

    Our institutions are waking up to this crisis far too late. We cannot afford any more delay or half measures — I applaud the regents for taking note, and urge them to demonstrate the bold leadership we need at this critical moment.


    UC vs. UM 2020 endowment returns:

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