New York University Plans to Divest From Fossil Fuels Thanks to Student Activists

Anna Garrison - Author

Sep. 12 2023, Updated 4:26 p.m. ET

One of the ways that public and private businesses can begin to address the ongoing climate crisis is by divesting from fossil fuels. Many climate activist groups have publicly urged companies to stop funding Exxon, BP, and others with protests and demonstrations.

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In 2019, New York City announced its plan to divest from fossil fuels over five years. In 2023, one of the largest and most expensive private universities in the U.S., New York University (NYU), announced a plan to do the same after prolonged pressure from student activists. Here's what you need to know about NYU's plan to divest from fossil fuels, plus a look inside the school's past involvement with these companies.

Subway platform sign on a lamppost near New York University.
Source: Getty Images
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In September 2023, NYU announced their plan to divest from fossil fuels.

According to The Guardian on Sept. 11, 2023, plans to divest from fossil fuels were primarily influenced by the continued attention of the university's chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a political action organization led by youths.

A letter written by the Chair of the NYU Board of Trustees, William R. Berkley, aimed directly at the Sunrise Movement, stated in August: "New York University commits to avoid any direct investments in any company whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels, including all forms of coal, oil, and natural gas, and not to renew or seek out any dedicated private funds whose primary aim is to invest in the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels."

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Also in the letter, The Guardian included steps NYU has previously taken to address the climate crisis, including "slashing greenhouse gas emissions from building energy, setting goals to reduce food-related emissions and pledging to achieve net zero by 2040."

Berkley also noted in his letter that at the time of writing, the university had "no direct ownership of public securities" of any fossil fuel company. The goal will apply to " the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies," a spokesperson from NYU clarified.

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Students have been reportedly pushing for NYU to divest from fossil fuel investments since 2004, but finally, in 2021, their push was renewed with vigor. Sunrise Movement circulated a petition with nearly 2,000 signatures and a dozen endorsements from fellow student-led organizations, graduate students, and professors.

Alicia Colomer, an NYU senior who co-founded the Sunrise Movement NYU chapter in 2020, told The Guardian, "I've read a lot of other divestment announcements from other schools and it's not common for them to name, much less to celebrate, the success of the student groups that got them there."

Let's hope more schools follow NYU's example and listen to their students and surrounding community begging for climate solutions.

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