commentary

Commitment Isn’t Convenient

21 May 2018

The recent release of the Sustainable Investment Framework (SIF) by the University of Melbourne calls into question the true priorities of the institution, especially amid growing concerns about university commercialisation. The SIF has revealed that the University of Melbourne is continuing to prioritise its financial position over the long-term welfare of its students and the community by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry.

The SIF was prepared on the basis of contributing towards the goals outlined within the University Sustainability Plan and Sustainability Charter, as well as aligning the University with its agreed commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. According to page 10 of the Sustainability Plan, the University is “prepared to set bold targets and ambitious priority actions to model sustainability and resilience through our operations.”

Despite this grand statement, the SIF falls dramatically short of committing to divestment, stating that, “A strict exclusion approach might compromise the University’s financial strength by narrowing the options for possible investments, and such an approach would lead the University to forgo its ability to engage with or influence investee companies (via its Fund and Portfolio Managers) in discussions around climate change risk management and disclosure.”

The University of Melbourne will continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry so long as it views the industry as a financially beneficial option. These statements make clear that the University will place financial priorities over taking genuinely ambitious action against climate change. By refusing to cease or phase out investment in some of the largest coal, oil and gas companies in the world the University is financially assisting these industries in continuing their contribution to climate change.

As such, the University finds itself in the paradoxical position of wilfully investing in some of the largest contributors to climate change purportedly in order to reduce their own contribution to climate change.

Discussions and assessments seem to be the sole concern of the SIF rather than initiating action on climate change. The University is using its investments portfolio to respond to the predicted impacts of climate change instead of utilising it as a tool to reduce and mitigate those impacts.

This is a major setback for the entire student community during a period that could have been precedent setting.

How can the University claim to set itself towards numerous sustainability goals but refuse to translate that into not only who they partner with, but how they make money? Does true sustainable practice not apply when it comes to making money?

Drastic action is needed to mitigate the severity of the impacts of climate change. The University claims it wants to be a global leader for sustainability, but to seriously become one it needs to make tough calls now for the long-term future.

The UN Environment’s Emission Gap Report 2016 noted that the world is still heading for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius this century, including consideration for pledges made at the Paris Climate Summit of 2015.

That’s the problem with pledges and statements: they’re just words. The University applauds itself whenever it releases a new “sustainable” document and calls itself a pioneering world leader, but refuses to commit to change where it really matters—the bottom dollar. The University is letting students down in the biggest way by failing to demonstrate real commitment to change.

Climate change is the defining problem of this generation. We, the students, did not choose to inherit this problem, nor have we been the main contributors to its accumulation; but it will be us who will face the consequences of it.

It’s easy to do nothing and continue doing what you’ve always done. Commitment isn’t convenient, nor is it easy; if it were, everyone would be doing it. As one of the top ranked universities in the world, the University of Melbourne holds the potential to set a new standard for committing to the future—our future. Our motto: postera crescam laude—“we shall grow in the esteem of future generations”—reflects that sentiment. Now is the only time to create the future we want.

The SIF shows a serious lack of commitment to sustainable action to combat climate change. In today’s capitalist society, the dollar is the most influential tool at one’s disposal, and the University would rather use it to benefit financially from climate change than contribute to proper efforts to mitigate it.

Noble Laureate and University of Melbourne scientist Professor Peter Doherty once said, “Universities can contribute massively to building a more sustainable world.” It’s true. They just need to put their money where their mouths are.


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