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Columbia University to divest from some coal companies

Columbia University, New York, will divest certain coal industry investments in support of addressing climate change, Lee Bollinger, the university president, said in a message posted on the university’s website.

University trustees have agreed to divest from companies deriving more than 35% of their revenue from thermal coal production, he said.

“Divestment of this type is an action the university takes only rarely and in service of our highest values," Mr. Bollinger said in a statement Monday. "That is why there is a very careful and deliberative process leading up to any decision such as this. Clearly, we must do all we can as an institution to set a responsible course in this urgent area.”

Robert Hornsby, a university spokesman, wrote in an email that the Columbia Investment Management Co., which manages investments for the $9 billion endowment, will liquidate approximately $10 million of investments in companies covered by the trustees’ guidelines.

The decision by the university’s trustees was based on a report by the advisory committee on socially responsible investing which includes students, faculty and alumni. The committee voted 7-4, with one abstention, to recommend divestiture.

Among the reasons for divestiture, a committee report issued Feb. 22 cited “lower CO2-emitting substitutes for coal in electricity generation, specifically, natural gas but also, increasingly, solar and wind.” The report also noted the pro-divestiture position that “shareholder engagement was not a sufficient response to the urgency of the climate change threat.”

The report also contained summaries of dissenters’ views. “Engagement is almost always superior to walking away from a problem,” the report said. ”If all environmentally conscious shareholders divested from energy companies, the only shareholders that would remain would be those that do not care about the environment.”

The university’s divestment decision “is intended to help mobilize a broader public constituency for addressing climate change,” according a statement accompanying Mr. Bollinger’s comments.

The university also said it will unveil a “multiyear planning process” next month “to further enhance the environmental sustainability of our operations.”