UN report concerning global warming ignites ethical debate of UT’s reliance on fossil fuels

Vivien Ayers, Senior News Reporter

The United Nations released a report on March 20 warning that if countries maintain their current carbon emissions rates, the planet will reach the maximum temperature to sustain life by the end of the decade — a revelation that may force high polluters to adapt their environmental standards.

“Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” U.N. secretary-general António Guterres said in a video statement. “The climate time-bomb is ticking.”

The 2023 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report states the world will soon surpass its goal of limiting global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit per year. Past this point, climate disasters will become so catastrophic humans will not be able to survive. 

The report said yearly emissions need to decrease by at least 50% to meet this goal. Because of this, Guterres is demanding industrialized nations like the U.S. completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2040, a decade before the deadline more than 70 other countries agreed upon. 

“In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts,” Guterres said in the statement. “Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last.”

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration 2020 reports, Texas was the highest carbon emitting state in the nation. 

According to the EPA, Texas leads in oil and gas production and in energy consumption. This partly comes from the Permanent University Fund and the 2.1 million acres of oil and gas fields allocated to the UT and Texas A&M Systems. 

The PUF produces 65,000 barrels of oil daily from its 10,000 currently-producing wells, according to University Lands. Within the past few years, organizations including Students Fighting Climate Change have called for divestment from the PUF to reduce UT’s environmental footprint as a leading institution. 

“It’s not an overnight process to divest from fossil fuels. It’s a very gradual project,” said Ella Hammersly, a Students Fighting Climate Change board of directors member. “But other universities have already taken the steps to do so. … If UT wants to be on the same caliber as all of these great academic institutions, we need to divest.”

However, some like Yael Glazer, research associate for the Webber Energy Group,  said they worry about the “unintended consequences” of divestment. Glazer and the UT Systems media relations office said PUF money funds campus infrastructure and student financials. 

The UT System and the PUF are implementing wind power generators in West Texas and using PUF money to fund research on the most “pressing climate challenges,” according to the UT System’s media relations office. 

“We have to think about the unintended consequences of what not having these funds might mean for equity and access,” Glazer said. “The University of Texas is a leader in so many different departments and funding is critical to that.”

Hammersly agrees the debate over UT’s divestment from fossil fuels requires a holistic standpoint. 

“We advocate for divestment, but it’s not the end all, be all of the climate crisis,” music performance senior Hammersly said. “The most sustainable option is not always financially viable, but to achieve investments and equity we need to do it in a way that keeps people who are sustained by that money in mind.”

The UT System declined to comment.