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University of California Investing $1 Billion to Fight Climate Change

The University of California has announced it will allocate $1 billion over five years for direct investments in solutions to climate change.

In addition, as part of UC President Janet Napolitano’s goal of bringing university operations to carbon neutrality by 2025, the 10-campus university system has signed agreements to secure substantial solar energy for the next 25 years.

The agreements with Frontier Renewables, a company that develops photovoltaic solar power projects, include the use of two solar fields to be constructed in Fresno County, California. The project will enable the university system to put 206,000 megawatt-hours per year of solar energy back into California’s electrical grid — enough to power 30,000 homes and avoid more than 88,000 metric tons of carbon annually.

The university system has also agreed to adhere to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), making it the largest university and the first public American university to do so. It will establish and implement a framework for sustainable investment with the goal of completion by the end of the current fiscal year.

The University of California will integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors as a core component of portfolio optimization and risk management. It will also evaluate all strategies for achieving ESG goals as soon as it becomes practical, including whether to use divestment.

In June, the University of California’s 11-member Task Force on Sustainable Investing began meeting to consider issues related to the university’s investments in fossil fuels. The task force unanimously agreed that climate change is a serious issue that must be addressed, but the majority of members were opposed to advocating immediate divestment from the University of California’s fossil fuel holdings, which account for about $10 billion in assets. The majority believed that addressing and accounting for this issue in a holistic way would produce the best possible returns in the long-term and align the university’s investment practices with its demonstrated commitment to sustainability.

In 2012, the University of California, Davis ranked No. 1 on Sierra Club’s list of green schools after completing the nation’s largest planned zero-net-energy residential community. The Sierra Club said the university also makes a major time and money commitment to a well-rounded set of sustainability efforts, including using its purchasing power for good, diverting around 70 percent of its trash from landfills and supporting a huge biking culture.

Earlier this month, University of California, Santa Barbara was ranked No. 1 in the environmental sustainability category of Net Impact’s Business as UNusual report, which includes a sustainability ranking of more than 100 U.S. graduate programs by 3,300 students nationwide.