Jody Freeman laughs set to a yellow background
04.08.23 Environment

Harvard climate professor steps down from controversial role at oil giant

The Harvard environmental law professor under fire for her lucrative role on the board of the fossil fuel giant ConocoPhillips has stepped down from the position after months of mounting pressure.

In April, TBIJ and the Guardian revealed that Jody Freeman had lobbied the US investment regulator on behalf of ConocoPhillips, a hugely polluting oil and gas company that was paying her more than $350,000 a year as a board member. Emails obtained under freedom of information laws showed she helped set up a meeting between company executives and a director at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ahead of new rules on companies publishing their emissions.

Freeman, already a controversial figure on campus, denied having initiated the meeting and said her actions were compliant with Harvard’s conflict-of-interests policies. But the criticism from climate activists became louder and more public, including calls for her to be fired by Harvard in a protest at the university’s Climate Forum.

On Thursday, Freeman said in a statement that she had left the position at ConocoPhillips “to focus on my research at Harvard and make space for some new opportunities”.

She added: “I learned a lot from my decade-long board service, think I made a positive difference, and am glad I did it.” Freeman received more than $3m from the company during her time on the board.

An article in the Washington Post published after TBIJ’s revelations outlined how, in the decade since Freeman got a seat on the ConocoPhillips board, the oil giant had increased the size of its oil and gas production and while lagging behind other companies on renewable energy investment.

In April, the company got the go-ahead to proceed with the controversial $8bn Willow project in Alaska, a so-called “carbon bomb” that will involve drilling for 600 million barrels of oil on pristine land.

Freeman says she will now concentrate on writing a book “on our environmental challenges and how we can make faster progress”.