Sunrise GW renews call to quit fossil fuels as American University announces divestment

Media Credit: File Photo by Donna Armstrong | Senior Staff Photographer

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights said in response that officials have not made any investments that focus on fossil fuel extraction in the past five years.

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights said GW is committed to taking “meaningful action” to address climate change after Sunrise GW’s most recent call for officials to divest from GW’s fossil fuel holdings.

Speights said officials have not made any private investments in at least five years that focus on the extraction of fossil fuels – including all forms of coal, oil and natural gas – and have reduced existing fossil fuel investments by 89 percent. The news follows a statement from Sunrise GW slamming the University for its holdings after American University announced its divestment from the industry Wednesday.

About 85.7 percent of student voters approved a referendum calling on officials to divest from its remaining fossil fuel holdings, which are estimated to total about $53 million, in this month’s Student Association elections.

“We have also listened to our students’ views on further divestment and the Board of Trustees has established a Task Force on Environmental, Social and Governance Responsibilities,” Speights said in an email. “The task force will review our fossil fuel investment policies and make recommendations to the board.”

Trustees created the ESG task force in February after a week of student activism on climate change. The demonstrations came after University President Thomas LeBlanc apologized for making a “racially insensitive” analogy while speaking with a member of Sunrise GW about fossil fuel divestment, which was captured on video.

Sunrise GW said in a statement following American’s announcement that GW has “fallen far behind” its peer institutions in taking action and called on the Board’s task force on environmental impact to issue a recommendation to the Board before its meeting next month.

“GW’s failure to act is pathetic,” Izy Carney, a sophomore and Sunrise GW member, said in the statement. “President LeBlanc and the Board of Trustees should be embarrassed that American and Georgetown are leading on climate, while GW fails to reckon with basic science.”

Officials have repeatedly declined to take a position on divestment, citing the Board’s task force on environmental, social and governance issues instead.

“GW is committed to sustainability and taking meaningful action to address the critical threat of climate change,” Speights said.

AU officials said the move is part of the institution’s “comprehensive commitment” to sustainability.

“For more than a decade, AU has been on a campus-wide sustainability journey – something that’s not just part of our mission, but our DNA as changemakers,” Sylvia Burwell, American’s president, said in a release. “Our actions, from reaching carbon neutrality to the board’s commitment to evolving our investments, will continue to serve as a model for sustainability.”

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