Sydney University has become the first institution of its type in Australia to halt investment in the coal industry, as it confirmed this week that it was to halt future investments in coal firms and was considering offloading its current holdings in the industry.
“The university has issued an instruction to its Australian equities managers to make no further investments in the coal and consumable fuels subsector of the ASX,” a spokeswoman for the university said.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the university had halted investments in Whitehaven Coal, the company behind controversial plans to develop the new Maules Creek open-cut coal mine, following a campaign from Greenpeace that saw 16,500 emails sent to vice-chancellor Michael Spence calling on the institution to adhere to its ethical investment guidelines and exit its Whitehaven holding.
The spokeswoman said the university was yet to decide a plan of action for its existing coal investments, although divestment of its $900,000 holding in Whitehaven was one of “various options” being considered as part of a review being undertaken by the Mercer Group “to ensure we meet our responsibilities to students, staff and donors.”
Activists will also be hoping it triggers a similar trend among Australian universities, after University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis earlier this year told staff that an investment management committee had been appointed to monitor “the potential impact of climate change issues on the value of investments.”
NSW Minerals Council chief executive, Stephen Galilee, said it was “a shame that Sydney University has caved in to the bullying of environmental activists masquerading as financial advisers”.
“The divestment campaign is environmental activism dressed up as investment advice and anyone choosing to take investment advice from environmental activists do so at their own financial risk,” Galilee said, adding a recent report commissioned by the council had found the fossil fuel divestment case was based “on false premises and unsubstantiated claims, and may breach Australian law”.
Greens leader Christine Milne said it was time for “forward-thinking institutions” to join banks, the Uniting Church and some superannuation funds to get out of fossil fuels and cut their global warming impact.
“Universities have a special role in thought leadership and should be participating in Australia’s transition from a disproportionately resource-based economy to a knowledge, information and service-based future,” Senator Milne said.
“Fossil fuel divestment needs to be part of that.”