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USyd to divest from only some fossil fuel companies over next five years

The SRC Environment Officers said that stopping short of divesting from all fossil fuel companies is “greenwashing at best.”

The University of Sydney today launched its Sustainable Investment Strategy 2030, pledging divestment from fossil fuel companies that are not making “determined progress to transition to a low-carbon economy” over the next five years.

This means that USyd will not be joining other Australian universities — UNSW, La Trobe and QUT — which have endorsed plans to divest from all fossil fuel companies, after years of sustained lobbying from environmental activists. 

Students’ Representative Council Environment Officer Drew Beacom said that the University “claiming they will be divesting, only to continue investing in fossil fuel companies, is greenwashing at best.”

“We hope to see the University do more; move away from fossil fuels entirely, pressure the state for publicly funded and owned renewables, and support research into renewable technologies and policies.”

The University said in a statement today that it will increase investment in sustainable solutions and aim to align its portfolio with the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and Net Zero by 2050, but has stopped short of committing to full divestment.

This is despite several years of lobbying from Fossil Free USYD, which is part of a global movement calling on institutions to challenge the social license of fossil fuel companies.

“Since 2014 … we have reduced the carbon intensity and absolute emissions of our listed equity portfolio by 70 percent and 79 percent respectively (as of 30 September 2020),” the University said.

In 2019, it was revealed under Freedom of Information laws that the University had $22.4 million invested in the fossil fuel industry. It is unclear how much is invested currently, and the University says clear milestones to assess their performance will be established by the end of this year.

Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton said that the University’s “obligation [is] to ensure our investments work as hard as possible to create a sustainable future balanced with our responsibilities as a capital manager.”

“Putting pressure on companies to transition to a low-carbon future can drive rapid change, as we are increasingly seeing around the world, and we will invest in companies that are demonstrably transitioning,” the Vice-Chancellor said.

Honi understands that where the University has a direct mandate, it will divest from investments in fossil fuel companies which aren’t transitioning to a low-carbon economy by the end of 2021. Where the University invests in collective or ‘pooled’ investments, it will disclose any holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of 2021.

The Environment Collective told Honi that they will continue pressuring the University to fully divest from fossil fuels and “do more than simply greenwash the future.”

Editors’ note: This article was updated on 12 June to include information from a University spokesperson.