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General Articles ∙ Universities Unloading on Fossil Fuels: The Legality of Divesting

Benjamin J. Richardson

Universities have become the major battleground of the global fossil fuels divestment movement led by student groups and staff. With their large endowment funds and high public visibility, universities have been targeted to divest and demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change. The legality of divestment should be an important consideration for many universities, especially because of the financial ramifications of excluding fossil-fuel companies from investment portfolios. The asserted rationales for divestment generally do not acknowledge the legal context, instead focusing on ethical, financial and tactical considerations. Divestment is likely to be lawful in a number of contexts, depending on how it is done and the reasons. But even where the law is on their side, divestment proponents have few legal options to challenge the investment decisions of university trustees.

Benjamin J. Richardson is Professor of Environmental Law, Faculty of Law and institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania.


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