Dear ANU Council,
Students for a Fossil Free ANU is writing to inform you that our campaign for leadership on fossil fuel investments continues this year, and to request that you place this issue back on Council’s agenda. Specifically, we request that the topic of the fossil fuel divestment is placed onto the agenda and discussed at the Council Meeting on April 1st 2016. At this meeting, we urge the ANU to commit to full fossil fuel divestment.
We first note the progress made so far, before outlining our reasons for taking further action.
Progress So Far
We commend ANU on its progress so far on fossil fuel divestment – ANU has a socially responsible investment policy, has divested from three fossil fuel companies as part of a broader ethical investment decision, and has recently introduced a carbon ‘tilt’ to reduce the carbon intensity of ANU’s domestic equities by 25% as compared to the ASX200.
ANU’s 2014 partial divestment lead to disproportionate controversy, yet the University stood strong with the community behind them. This support is confirmed by national polling and polling of ANU staff completed by ANU students. The ANU community wants ANU to be a leader. As former Vice Chancellor Ian Young noted, ANU’s decision to divest turned out to be an act of national leadership.
The Need for Full Divestment
Since that 2014 decision, the divestment movement has since grown substantially. The Australian recently listed the divestment movement as 20th most influential force in Higher Education, foreshadowing the coming divestment “tsunami” in the wake of the Paris Agreement.1 Asset managers holding $3.4 trillion have now made some form of divestment2 and AXA predicts continued growth this year.
In this context, it is remarkable how little action we have seen from Australia’s universities. ANU and the University of Sydney have both made modest divestment and carbon reduction pledges, while Swinburne is considering divestment but is yet to take any action.
We support ANU’s right to make such a decision and support these first steps towards responsible investing, but we continue to have concerns about the process, transparency and scope of the 2014 divestment decision and carbon tilt announcement. While the level of attention suited our goals, we doubt the episode would have attracted such criticism had the matter been approached differently. In particular, the 2014 decision was not framed specifically to take climate leadership, and did not intend to single out the fossil fuel industry, despite being interpreted as such. We note the contrasting reaction to the August 2015 decision of the ACT Government to divest, which was relatively uncontroversial and indicates wide acceptance of divestment within the ACT community.
Owing to the media attention ANU received in 2014, many people already believe ANU has divested from fossil fuels. Such individuals are deeply disappointed to learn that the reality is that ANU continues to invest in companies holding some of the largest carbon reserves in the world. ANU can only be a true climate leader if we fully divest from fossil fuels.
The University acknowledges that 2014’s divestment decision saved them millions of dollars, just as ANU’s earlier divestment from Metgasco also saved ANU millions of dollars. One recent study found that if the ANU had divested from fossil fuels in full when initially asked, it would be more than US$50 million ahead of its current position.3 With this knowledge, ANU can no longer claim to be fulfilling its fiduciary duty without fully divesting from fossil fuels.
We hope that Council recognises the moral and financial sense of divesting, and makes ANU the first Australian university to be a true climate leader.
Fossil Free ANU
1 The Australian, 2015. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/special-features/higher-education-30-most-influential-2016/news-story/32518529239a8924d6da4f29919ca349
2 Nussbaum, 2015. Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-02/fossil-fuel-divestment-tops-3-4-trillion-mark-activists-say
3Heaps, 2015. Corporate Knights, http://www.corporateknights.com/channels/responsible-investing/fossil-fuel-investments-cost-major-funds-billions-14476536/