Investments Forum concludes consultation on Sustainability Plan 2016-2020

September 16 / 186

Panel members: Don Henry, Allan Tait, Leeora Black, Martijn Wilder, Matt Clare, and Maxine McKew
Panel members: Don Henry, Allan Tait, Leeora Black, Martijn Wilder, Matt Clare, and Maxine McKew

Opinions across the entire topic of University investments and interactions with the fossil fuel sector were heard at a recently held Investments Forum, as the University continued with next steps in developing the Sustainability Plan 2016-2020.

The Sustainability Plan 2016-2020 is the next key step in the University’s holistic approach to sustainability after the recent release of the Sustainability Report 2015 in June and the Sustainability Charter in March.

The Sustainability Plan 2016-2020 identifies priority actions and targets to move the University forward in realising Sustainability Charter commitments, which included implementing “investment strategies consistent with the University’s commitment to sustainability and its financial and legal obligations.”

Consultation on the Sustainability Plan 2016-2020 has now closed and the University has welcomed the significant response from its community (staff, students, alumni and the general public) for their submissions to the Sustainability Plan 2016-2020.

This included 72 e-mails; 475 forum participants across two fora (May & August); 35 workshop participants organised in conjunction with UMSU Environment and their working groups; and the Sustainability Executive following the 200+ submissions it received for the Sustainability Charter last year.

All feedback is now being considered, and where possible addressed, through the Sustainability Plan 2016-2020, which is due to be launched in October pending approval by University Council.

It was revealed during the passionate discussion about the most effective way the University could contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, that the University’s indirect investments to the Carbon Underground 200 (CU 200) companies represent 4.08 per cent of the University’s total portfolio at the end of this financial year.

This investment is through pro-rata allocation of Victorian Funds Management Corporation pooled investment trusts.

Chaired by Maxine McKew, the panel included Allan Tait (University of Melbourne Vice-Principal Administration and Finance) who chairs the Sustainability Executive; Dr Leeora Black (Managing Director of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility); Martijn Wilder (Head of Baker & McKenzie’s Global Environmental Markets and Climate Change legal practice, who is also Adjunct Professor in Climate Change Law at ANU); Professor Don Henry (Melbourne Enterprise Professor of Environmentalism in the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute); Matt Clare (spokesperson for Fossil Free Melbourne University); and a pre-recorded video from Professor Cameron Hepburn (Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Oxford).

After outlining the University’s interactions with the fossil fuel industry Vice-Principal of Engagement at the University Adrian Collette stressed the conversation was not ‘an argument for or against divestment’.

“Rather we are trying to bring to the surface the extent of our indirect investments with the fossil fuel sector and account for the value of our scholarly and student interactions,” he said.

Matt Clare called for the University to “direct VFMC to freeze further investment in CU200 companies immediately and to sell off their shares in these companies within the next five years.”

Cameron Hepburn presented an alternative approach.

“The important thing is that these companies have a credible strategy [towards net zero emissions] with milestones and metrics measurable over time and to which they are held to account.

“I don’t think it is morally necessary to sideline all of the fossil fuel companies, rather on the contrary they need to be brought into the solution.

“For those who can set out a credible transition plan [towards zero emissions], I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to be withdrawing capital for the moral claim that they don’t have a social license to operate, but they must have a credible plan.”

Martijn Wilder said the best strategy was not always to divest, and that active engagement was very important.

“It has to be a balanced,” he said. “Divestment can be done … it has to be done in a phased and planned manner,” Mr Wilder said, citing the recent experiences of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Rockefeller Foundation.

Leeora Black spoke of the University “cleaning up its own house” in terms of social responsibility.

“The University cannot rest on its laurels. One of the hallmarks of the field of sustainability is that it changes rapidly and societal expectations of good practice from our major institutions also evolve.

“I urge the University to go further… could the University of Melbourne be the first Australian university to be a signatory [to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment]? I certainly hope so,” Dr Black said.

Don Henry spoke about the importance of the Paris agreement and highlighted an example of the University’s engagement with the fossil fuel sector and government for the Paris agreement.

“The University was able to provide advice and assistance to Al Gore and [fossil fuel] company CEOs issuing a powerful statement calling for a strong Paris outcome and calling for the Australian government to support it,” Professor Henry said.

He concluded with his own personal views on the University’s investments strategy, saying it wasn’t “helpful” for the University to invest in activities that support CO2 emissions or substantive CO2 emissions.

“I don’t think that delivers change as quickly as we need it to occur. But I do think there is a question of a process of how you go about divesting and you have maximum impact rather than just feel good about it.

“It is quite important to invest in things achieving the change. My own personal view is that we should be investing now in that zero carbon world… to really drive sustainability at the pace and speed in which we need it.”

If you would like to learn more about the Sustainability Plan 2016-2020, or if you would like to watch the full recording of the Investments Forum click here.

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