Faculty Report Recommends Criteria for Princeton to Evaluate Fossil Fuel Decoupling Companies

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A long-awaited University report, authored by the Faculty Panel on Fossil Fuel Decoupling, has proposed criteria for identifying companies whose assets the University could potentially divest from its $37.7 billion endowment. .

In the new report, the group of faculty members, chaired by civil and environmental engineering professor Anu Ramaswami, focused on creating metrics for two overarching questions: whether companies are engaged in intentional dispersion of climate misinformation and whether companies are engaged in two specific sectors. from the fossil fuel industry — thermal coal and tar sands oils.

For a company to be considered “spreading climate misinformation,” the misinformation must come from “an agent communicating with the intent to mislead,” according to the report. To determine whether such intent exists, the committee wrote that civil suits could serve as a useful framework, recommending that the University use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard – generally used to indicate a legal standard under which the burden of proof has been satisfied if there is more than a 50% chance that the statement is true. The panel also offered a “scorecard” to navigate those determinations and listed specific arguments that could qualify as intentional misinformation.

The criteria proposed in the report, released on June 2, now awaits approval by the university’s board of trustees.

The report marks the latest step on Princeton’s path to partial divestment from fossil fuels. This comes a year after the University, on May 27, 2021, first announced its intention to financially divest from companies responsible for spreading climate misinformation and from certain segments of the fossil fuel industry. associated with particularly high emission rates, such as coal and tar. sands.

According to figures released at the March meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC), the University’s endowment currently has a total exposure of $1.7 billion to the fossil fuel industry, of which 13 million held directly in fossil fuel investments.

Although called a “substantial step forward” by undergraduate student government president Mayu Takeuchi ’23, some student climate activists said the faculty panel’s report seemed like another hurdle in a long bureaucratic process. which they say has frustrated divestment efforts.

“Princeton still hasn’t divested a single dollar of its $1.7 billion from fossil fuel companies,” said Aaron Serianni ’25 and Nate Howard ’25, co-coordinators of Divest Princeton, the dedicated student group advocating total divestment from fossil fuels. in a joint statement to the Daily Princetonian.

“This report has only just been sent to the board for further discussion, a year after Princeton first announced a possible partial divestment,” they added.

The faculty report’s criteria for assessing corporate climate misinformation were created around five categories of “super claim” content areas that the report says were developed based on climate misinformation campaigns. existing in the United States and around the world. According to the report, the five categories include “climate change is not happening”, “human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not the cause”, “climate impacts are not bad”, “Climate policy/solutions don’t work” and “Climate science is unreliable.”

The report’s “dashboard” recommendation is intended to help the University determine which companies are intentionally misleading about climate change, versus company claims “which may indicate the potential for legitimate skepticism”. The scorecard assesses data elements such as internal versus external statements from companies, social media, advertisements, and membership in organizations that “spread misinformation.”

The panel report also includes metrics to identify power plants and coal producers involved in thermal coal or tar sands oils. The panel supplemented those tools with recommendations, suggesting that the University focus “on the most serious and egregious cases” of misinformation and begin fossil fuel reviews with the largest fossil fuel companies in the portfolio. Princeton University investment.

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Although the report identified decoupling priorities as assessing corporate engagement in climate misinformation as well as coal and tar sands thermal oil, the panel said it designed the measures keeping in mind mind the potential for expanding the scope of dissociation from the University.

According to the report, contributing faculty “sought to develop metrics, standards, and algorithms so that they can be updated in years to come and potentially transposed to other segments of the industry.”

On May 12, the report was submitted for review to the Administrative Committee – a six-person board made up of university administrators and representatives of Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO). The trustee committee on finance has begun initial reviews and will meet in a special meeting this summer to review the report, according to the university’s website.

Vice Chairman and Secretary in the Office of the President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 Hilary A. Parker told the ‘Prince’ that these measures are intended to ensure that the Board of Directors can act on these issues in the fall and reflect ” the commitment of the University and the sense of urgency to implement the decision to unbundle.

Some student activists see things differently. With Princeton now one of three Ivy League institutions that has yet to fully divest from fossil fuels, Divest Princeton activists have argued that the institution is lagging behind its peers.

“Dive in Princeton will continue to demand a full, speedy and transparent divestment and decoupling of the fossil fuel industry,” Serianni and Howard told The Prince.

Once the recommended criteria are finalized by the Administrative Committee and pending Board approval, the University is expected to publish a list of companies flagged for unbundling in early fall 2023.

Tess Weinreich is a news writer and feature contributor for the “Prince”. She can be reached at tw7353@princeton.edu.

News Staff Writer Annie Rupertus contributed reporting.

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