UQ students protest uni’s investment in fossil fuels

April 21, 2016
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A bunch of protesters from Fossil Free UQ staged a sit-in outside University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Høj’s, office on Monday as part of a nationwide campaign known as Flood the Campus. The group is ramping up pressure on Australian universities to fully divest from fossil fuel companies.

The protesters, holding signs that read, “I am here because this is an emergency” and “Hey Høj, we’re outside your door” occupied UQ’s Brian Wilson Chancellery Building and refused to leave until their demands – which included honest communication and a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor –were met.

Flood the Campus aims to force Australian universities to rethink their investments in environmentally damaging fossil fuel companies in the wake of the global climate change crisis. It also encourages universities to view themselves as leaders in their responsibility to maintain ethical financial investment.

Lucinda Donovan, a Fossil Free UQ member and protester, said that UQ needed to start listening to its community and investing in the future of a clean and prosperous Australia.

“There were next to no concrete responses or attempts at engagement other than ‘we will not divest’,” Donovan said. “We are trying to achieve decent and ongoing communication with the university, a chance to present our case to the university senate, and ultimately full divestment from the fossil fuel industry by UQ.

“While the conversation today has been much more productive, up until now it has been a very hypocritical stance of funding and encouraging their academics doing vital climate change research, while simultaneously investing in the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “With climate change moving as rapidly as it is, we need to do everything we can to slow it down. Fossil fuel companies which seek to create levels of pollution that we can’t afford need to know that we won’t stand for it. Divesting from them is a great step.”

UQ responded to earlier fossil free protests by establishing a Green Socially Responsible Investment portfolio open to new donors. The portfolio ensures exclusion from all companies involved in the exploration and production of oil, gas, coal and general mining. Previous investment arrangements, totalling $160 million of donated funds, will remain unchanged.

Up until now it has been a very hypocritical stance of funding and encouraging their academics doing vital climate change research, while simultaneously investing in the fossil fuel industry.

In a statement released on Monday, Professor Peter Høj said that UQ was already committed to ethical financial investment, and divesting was not as simple as it seemed.

“Donors have provided UQ with trust funds and bequests under certain agreements, and we are obliged to honour these agreements,” he said. “It is important to note that this existing UQ portfolio is already considered socially-responsible as it is managed by external fund managers DNR Capital, signatories to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment.

“I’m delighted to see UQ students working towards creating change to achieve goals they can see will serve the greater global good,” he said. “I too believe that climate change is a concern of the highest order and that decisive actions must be taken.”

Currently, there are 17 fossil free movements taking place at Australian universities, after the campaign originated in the United States in 2012.

In a controversial 2014 move, the Australian National University was the first Australian university to announce divestment in fossil fuel after they pulled investments worth $16 million from several resources companies, including oil and gas developer Santos. These investments represented just 5 per cent of the university’s domestic equity, yet sparked national outrage. Former prime minister Tony Abbott called the divestment a “stupid decision”.

After 10 hours of negotiation with UQ Chief Operation Officer Greg Pringle, Fossil Free UQ reported through their Facebook page that all their demands had been met and that they await a meeting with Vice-Chancellor Professor Høj in May.

Shannon Coward

Shannon Coward is a third year Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Queensland. She enjoys period dramas, doughnuts and a good nap.