Universities Divesting in Fossil Fuels (part 2)

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.38.51Over the past year a growing number of student groups at schools from around the world have started up campaigns asking that their university divest from fossil fuels. Students, staff, faculty and alumni are coming together into groups that use a mix of open letters, petitions, debates, speaker series and events, film screenings, article writing, presentations, club meetings and online campaigns to mobilise their university around this topic. In part 1 we reviewed some of the background to this growing movement. Here in part 2 we will look at a selection of examples of what schools are doing in the US, Canada, UK and Australia.

USA

The divesting movement began in the US with several hundred small- and medium-sized schools that have either already made commitments, or currently have strong student and staff movements pressuring them to do so. San Francisco State University committed to divest from coal and tar sands and set up a committee to explore full divestment. The University of Dayton committed to divestment in stages earlier this year of its USD$670 million investments pool. A number of larger universities in the US also have active campaigns including Stanford University, who announced earlier this year that it would make no direct investments in coal companies, and Harvard University, where faculty members have signed a letter to the dean urging the university to divest. The University of California Faculty Association recently urged the university’s Board of Regents to divest funds from fossil fuel companies (about USD$3 billion worth). The committee decided not to sell off stock holdings, but to have environmental and social issues more deeply influence investment decisions. A USD$1 billion plan was proposed to invest in direct solutions to climate change. In the US a growing number of cities have also decided to divest including Seattle, San Francisco and Portland.

Canada

At Dalhousie University, students and staff started a campaign called, “100 Days of Action,” aimed to pressure the university to divest its endowments from fossil fuel companies. They have delivered an extensive proposal to the university’s Investment Committee and are calling for a decision by the Board of Governors during their upcoming meeting at the end of November in relation to their CDN$470 million endowment fund. At Simon Fraser University the Faculty Association voted to develop a fossil-free pension fund option on the 7th of November, and faculty are currently preparing a letter to pension trustees expressing the will of the meeting. Faculty at the University of Victoria recently voted 66% in favour of divestment from fossil fuels in pension funds and endowment. Faculty, students and alumni were urged to sign an open letter calling for divestments, and are calling for a freeze on all new investments in fossil fuels in the university’s endowment fund. Concordia University, University of Guelph and Saint Mary’s University also have active campaigns underway.

United Kingdom

Over 50 campaigns have been launched across the UK to push institutions to divest from fossil fuels in the over GBP£5billion held in UK university endowment funds. After a year of campaigning by over 1,300 students and staff, the University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to divest its entire GBP£129 million endowment of fossil fuels. Oxford University is currently conducting a staff consultation on divestment after 2,000 students and academics joined a divestment campaign. University of Surrey shifted funds from two unnamed fossil fuel companies into a renewable-energy-focused company. Additional campaigns are currently underway at the University of Exeter, the University of Portsmouth, the University of Reading and the University of Leeds.

Australia

The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra agreed to begin divesting AUS$16 million in seven fossil fuel companies. The decision was made based on a review of their Socially Responsible Investment, commissioned by the university to an outside research company, which was followed by a referendum showing 82% of ANU students supported the idea. The university’s decision was strongly condemned by the Prime Minister and other members of parliament, yet strongly supported by 50 prominent Australians, who put their names in an open letter published as a full-page newspaper advertisement in support of ANU’s decision. Inspired in part by the success of ANU, campaigns have started at other universities across Australia including La Trobe University. Monash University’s Fossil Free campaign has pressured the university to establish an investment advisory committee that could direct the university to divest from coal and gas. The University of New South Wales Student Representative Council recently voted in favour of fossil fuel divestment however the University Council voted overwhelmingly to hold on to fossil fuel assets because they believe that working closely with industry and government will have a greater impact in addressing climate change.

 

Is your school organising a divestment campaign? Should universities divest? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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