La Trobe University Commits To Full Fossil Fuel Divestment


La Trobe University has become the first in Australia to commit to full divestment from fossil fuels, according to an email circulated to University staff earlier this morning and seen by New Matilda.

Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar said that over the next five years La Trobe will “divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies ranked by the carbon content of their fossil fuel reserves”.

“We are the first university in Australia to make a commitment to complete divestment in this way,” Prof Dewar said. “We can be proud of our status as the leading sustainable university in Australia, and a leader internationally.”

He said the University was also committed to being open and transparent and that, “Accordingly, we will also disclose the carbon exposure of our investments and provide annual reports of our divestment progress over the next five years”.

Fossil Free campaigner and current La Trobe student Michaela Carter welcomed the decision, saying it “vindicates years of work to get the university to take a responsible attitude toward their investment portfolio”.

Academic staff have also lauded the move. “I am really proud of my university for choosing to divest from fossil fuel investments,” said Ben Habib, Lecturer in Politics & International Relations and Course Coordinator of Master of International Relations.

He said the decision “reinforces the demonstrated commitment of the many academics, professional staff and students across the University community to strong climate action”. Vice-Chancellor Dewar also took the opportunity to “thank the students and staff that have been advocating for this change”.

(IMAGE: Thom Mitchell.)
(IMAGE: Thom Mitchell.)

Prof Dewar said that the decision would not compromise returns on the University’s investments. “Divesting in fossil fuels will not inhibit our ability to achieve the annual returns on investments that we need to ensure that the University remains in a robust financial position,” the Vice-Chancellor said.

Despite increasing pressure from students and staff, Universities have copped flack for distancing themselves from fossil fuels in the past. When the Australian National University made a decision to partially divest in 2014 they were pounded with criticism from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the conservative press.

Other Universities to pursue partial divestment include the University of Sydney, Monash and Swinburne. Those that have not yet divested now run an increasing repetitional risk as they fall behind the ethical investment pack, as a report leaked to New Matilda earlier this month reveals.

In the report, financial consultants Mercer warned the University of New South Wales that if it did not proactively begin to respond to the demands of staff and students it would leave itself vulnerable to a fast-building fossil fuel divestment campaign. It also suggested there was little financial risk associated with the decision to divest.

La Trobe University is expected to make a public announcement on its decision later this afternoon, but the news has already reached climate advocacy group National Campus Divestment Coordinator Ray Yoshida said the group is “thrilled” with the development.

“They have shown other universities that it is possible, and I look forward to other institutions following their lead,” Yoshida said. “Universities have a very clear choice – do they keep funding dirty fossil fuels that drives climate change, or do they show true leadership, as La Trobe has done, and prove that there is an alternative.”

Institutions with $3.4 trillion under management have so-far committed to some form of divestment as mainstream economists increasingly warn of potential ‘stranded assets’ in coal, oil, and gas stocks.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.