Wednesday April 22nd is the National Day of Campus Divestment Action.
The national divestment organisation, 350.org, has arranged the action to pressure Australian Universities to divest their portfolios from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Presently, only two Australian universities, ANU and Sydney University, have taken any action to divest their portfolios from fossil fuels. Melbourne University is poised to announce a decision on divestment in the upcoming weeks, and campaigns are proliferating at universities across the nation.
As part of the National Day of Action, ANU students will meet in Union Court on Wednesday at 11am to march to the Chancellery with a giant petition of over 1000 signatures in support of divestment, as well as with the last year’s referendum result. Vice Chancellor Ian Young has not yet responded to requests to meet with students upon delivery.
Last year, Fossil Free ANU held a referendum on fossil fuel divestment, with 82% of students voting in support of divestment. Despite this, ANU’s response was to divest from merely two fossil fuel companies, comprising less than 1% of their overall investment portfolio. Ian Young stated that ANU has an obligation to invest ‘in a manner consistent with [its] stakeholder students, alumni and staff.’ The ANU Council has never formally recognised the referendum result or responded to it. ANU has also never consulted students, staff or alumni on the issue of fossil fuel divestment.
Climate change may be the greatest challenge of our era, however it is also the most abstract, ungraspable and disempowering problem we have ever faced. With government beholden to the fossil fuel industry, divestment is one of the only strategies proven to be effective. When ANU divested from two fossil fuel companies, media and political furore ensued.
Climate campaigns across the globe are converging on the divestment strategy. In Canberra, environmental groups such as 350.org, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Fossil Free ANU are all campaigning for divestment. Just as divestment was effective against apartheid in South Africa, divestment may be our last hope of securing action on climate change in time.
Ian Young commented last year, ‘For a university like ours, which is, for instance, a major researcher in environment and alternative energy, we need to be able to put our hand on our heart when we talk to our students… to say that we’re confident that the sort of companies that we’re investing in are consistent with the broad themes that drive this university.’ It is difficult to reconcile ANU’s millions of undisclosed investment dollars in fossil fuels with this statement.
At this National Day of Action, students will launch the ‘Divest the Rest’ campaign. This campaign intends to hold Ian Young to his rhetoric on climate change, and ask for action to meet his words. The National Day of Action is an opportunity for students to become empowered to take action on climate change
Ian Young will leave ANU next year to pursue climate research, describing it a ‘critical issue.’ As students, we have the opportunity to help Ian Young leave an ethical legacy on this critical issue, to divest the rest of ANU’s fossil fuel investments.