USyd slips backwards on carbon target

The share portfolio’s emissions intensity of the University has increased from 2016.

The University of Sydney’s latest report on its share portfolio’s carbon footprint reveals a slight reversal in the progress made over the last two years.

In 2015, the University rejected the demands of a fossil fuel divestment campaign, labelling total divestment as a “blunt instrument which delivers sub-optimal outcomes”. The University instead committed to a “whole-of-portfolio approach” involving a 20 per cent reduction of its share portfolio’s carbon footprint within three years.

When this reduction target is factored in, the total amount of carbon emissions produced by companies in USyd’s share portfolio should not exceed approximately 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, while the maximum emissions intensity per US dollar invested should not exceed 225 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

By September 2016, the University’s carbon footprint was 27 per cent below this benchmark. In a statement to Honi last year, a University spokesperson highlighted that this was “seven per cent better than the proposed target” and that “this result shows that the University was tracking better than the proposed target 12 months earlier than the agreed deadline”.

However, while the carbon intensity of USyd’s share portfolio is still within the parameters of the 20 per cent reduction, the 2017 report shows that the portfolio’s emissions intensity has increased since 2016 and now sits on the outskirts of its boundary for emissions intensity per dollar.

Despite the media attention surrounding the University’s initial commitment to the 20 per cent reduction target, with the University’s own 2015 promotional material emphasising how they were taking a “leadership position on carbon reduction”, there has been minimal coverage of USyd’s progress since the initial commitment.

The University has said that its results are “publicly reported in detail”, although both the 2016 and 2017 progress reports have been uploaded to the ‘Investment and Capital Management’ section of the University’s website without accompanying press releases, and each year’s report only consists of a single graph.

Disclosures made as a result of a Government Information (Public Access) (GIPA) request filed last year have revealed the AU dollar value of the University of Sydney’s direct investments in companies involved in the extraction of coal, oil and coal seam gas, and how this has changed following its 2015 commitments.

Since 2015, the University has significantly reduced its investments in Santos, an oil and gas producer, reducing them from $916,434 in December 2015 to $329,837 by December 2016, while total divestment was achieved in June 2017.

The University has also divested from Whitehaven Coal. This reduction followed a 2014 Greenpeace campaign, which protested the University’s investments in Whitehaven. At the time, the University said it would halt investments in Whitehaven and “make no further investments in the coal and consumable fuels subsector of the ASX.” The GIPA results indicate that the University’s holdings in Whitehaven dropped from $900,000 in 2014 to $483,275 by December 2015, and total divestment was achieved by December 2016.

However, the University still retains shares in key mining and energy companies. As of June 2017, the University had $4,294,182 of holdings in mining company BHP Billiton, although this is approximately half of the $8,615,325 that was invested in BHP as of December 2015.

During the same time period the University’s funds in mining giant Rio Tinto—worth $3,263,383 in December 2015—have more than doubled, and as of June 2017 the University has $7,268,078 worth of Rio Tinto holdings.

Rio Tinto is one of the University’s largest corporate partners, with the multimillion dollar Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation established on campus in 2007.

Its funds in AGL Energy, where University Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson is a Non-Executive Board Director, also increased in the six month period between December 2016 and June 2017, but have decreased overall since 2015.

A new ‘Expose the Ties’ campaign, launched last year by Fossil Free Universities, is currently examining the ties forged between universities and the fossil fuel industry through research funding and the positions of University board members in fossil fuel companies. The campaign suggests that  these relationships form a barrier to full divestment.