At the ANU University Council meeting held on Friday the 1st of April, Fossil Free ANU presented an open letter and petition signed by more than 450 academics and staff, calling on the Council to end investments in the fossil fuel industry.
The University Council is the governing body of the ANU, with 15 members, including student elected representatives from ANUSA and PARSA. They provide strategic oversight of the University, ensuring effective overall management, appointing senior leadership and ensuring responsible financial and risk management. Student observers are permitted to sit in on aspects of the Council’s meetings that aren’t deemed confidential, such as the presenting of student and staff petitions.
Luke Kemp, ANU alumni and lecturer at both the Fenner School of Environment and Society and Crawford School of Public Policy spoke on behalf of Fossil Free ANU, stating that there were “clear moral, financial and democratic reasons why the ANU should divest.”
“As an educational institution, it is also hypocritical for the University to be preparing students for the future, whilst simultaneously undermining their futures,” he expressed.
Agreeing with Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt’s characterisation of climate change as ‘the great challenge for humanity over the next 100 years’, Kemp pointed out that the Council had democratic legitimacy to fully divest; in an ANUSA referendum in 2014, 82% of undergraduate voters supported fossil fuel divestment -1606 said yes and 351 voted against.
Their Staff Open Letter, Kemp also expressed, was the second largest open letter of its kind in the world.
However, the issue had not been scheduled for debate, taking away the opportunity for discussion; when asked by members of the Fossil Free ANU contingent when it would be possible to formally discuss the issue, Chancellor Gareth Evans was unwilling to confirm when, or if at all, it would be discussed in depth at another meeting.
The presentation by Fossil Free ANU was the only part of the meeting that observers were allowed to be present during, with all other discussion items marked as confidential, including those of high student interest, such as the Union Court redevelopment plans.
VC Brian Schmidt gave the only response from the Council to the petition, stating in a pre-written update on the ANU’s ‘Socially Responsible Investment Policy’ that the ANU was working on moving towards divestment, through moving away from direct management of the domestic investment portfolio. As this was prepared previous to hearing Kemp’s speech, there was no direct response to Fossil Free ANU’s open letter.
Instead of direct management by the Council of this portfolio, they have appointed an external portfolio manager, whose role is to exclude companies that draw more than 20% of their revenue from coal, tobacco or pornography.
“Under this system, ANU makes no decisions itself about any individual stocks”, he said, explaining that this was done to “more efficiently decrease the University’s investment exposure to CO2 intensive industries without increasing the University’s exposure to volatility in the equities market.”
Schmidt pointed out that due to the University’s ‘Socially Responsible Investment Policy’, the ANU domestic portfolio CO2 intensity had dropped from 352 tonnes per $1million in September 2014 – before ANU began it’s divestment strategy – to 154 tonnes per $1million.
These decreases are extremely significant, a 39% decrease in CO2 intensity compared to the previous policy, pointing to the University’s consideration of the issue.
However, there was no indication that the University was planning on fully divesting, as the open letter had called for.
The speech given by Fossil Free ANU can be found below and Brian Schmidt’s response on behalf on the University Council can be found here.
Fossil Free ANU Address to Council
By Luke Kemp
Thank you for inviting us to present today. I’m Luke Kemp and I’ll be speaking on behalf of Fossil Free ANU, voicing the concerns of the student body and over 450 staff.
Admittedly I am a bit of an ANU tragic. I did my undergraduate here; I tutored here, completed my PhD here and am now a lecturer both at Fenner and Crawford.
I am proud to be an ANU alumnus and staff, and I was proud in 2014 when the ANU took the first positive steps towards divestment. I was proud of the students who advocated for such a change and who still do today.
I was proud when the ANU took a principled stance and did not succumb to pressure from the fossil fuel lobby. The national and international reaction showed that the ANU can make a profound difference by demonstrating climate leadership. But this is not enough: we continue to hold investments in some of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world. As a climate policy researcher I am truly not proud of this.
ANU Council has an opportunity to complete the commendable work it began – to divest the rest of its fossil fuels investments and demonstrate true and consistent climate leadership.
There are clear moral, financial and democratic reasons why the ANU should divest.
Firstly, We agree with Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt’s characterisation of climate change as the great challenge for humanity over the next hundred years.
The continued operation of the fossil fuel industry threatens the health of our population, and our environment. The industry also threatens the integrity of our politics by deliberately preventing government action on climate change. Our continued investment makes us morally culpable for their actions.
Additionally, this contradicts ANU’s socially responsible investment policy, which requires the University to avoid investing in companies that are “likely to cause substantial social injury”. We need look no further than ANU’s own climate research to see the immense social harm caused by the fossil fuel industry.
As an educational institution, it is also hypocritical for the University to be preparing students for the future, whilst simultaneously undermining their futures.
Secondly, while it is morally reprehensible to profit from the industry creating climate change, it is now uncertain as to whether fossil fuel companies are even profitable investments.
80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to secure a safe climate. Yet the continued financial viability of fossil fuel companies depends on the exploitation of these reserves.
There is increasing acknowledgement of the risks to investors and the global economy of a growing carbon bubble – from HSBC, Citi Group, and the World Bank. All of which are conservative institutions.
These financial risks will only become more significant as the world takes action on climate change, to reach the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement and stay within 2 degrees.
A recent report estimated that the ANU would have generated $53 million dollars more in returns had it fully divested three years ago. Given this substantial figure, we encourage ANU Council to take the financial risks of fossil fuel investment seriously.
Finally, ANU Council has democratic legitimacy to fully divest from fossil fuels. Divestment is a move that staff and students want. 82% of students voted in support of fossil fuel divestment in 2014.
And we present here today our Staff Open Letter with over 450 signatures. This is the second largest Open Letter of its kind in the world, and has generated national media. This demonstrates staff engagement with the issue and university-wide support for full divestment. Leading researcher Professor Robert Costanza spoke in support of the Open Letter, publically stating that fossil fuel divestment is a way for the ANU to help secure a “more sustainable and desirable future, that is… more ecologically and socially just.”
The ANU can act with the overwhelming support of its community of both students and staff.
To conclude, divestment is a clear, reasonable, and effective way to show climate leadership. We have consistently advocated for: the full disclosure of investments in fossil fuel companies, the cessation of such investments, and then divestment over a five year period.
Please understand that if you do not take leadership on climate change, large numbers of the ANU community feel so strongly about this issue, that we are not afraid to take further leadership ourselves.
The ANU seeks to be a leading university, working in the national interest. Divestment is the clearest opportunity the ANU has to lead the universities of Australia, and the nation forward.
As Professor Simon Rice has asked, “If the ANU can’t show leadership on something as fundamental as climate change… who can?”
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