Chelsea Daniel (writer), Zachary Matthews (writer), Ayushmaan Nagar (illustration)
Care about the environment but don't know what to do? Don't worry, 2022 UMSU Environment OBs Chelsea Daniel and Zach Matthews are coming to the rescue.
What is divestment?
Divestment is a word that has been thrown around a lot in these past few years and can mean different things in different circles with different goals. For the UMSU Environment Department, divestment is the act of withdrawing investments in fossil fuel companies or other corporations that actively harm the environment and contribute to social harm. UMSU Enviro is calling on the University of Melbourne to divest, which will mean that the University would cease to have any stock or financial investments in any of the companies engaged in fossil fuels.
The ‘fossil fuel companies’ we discuss in divestment are the top 200 listed under the annually updated Underground Carbon 200. The Enviro Department will also be using this as a model to judge companies off of, similar to other “divestment companies across the globe”.
Why is it important?
Currently, the University of Melbourne is invested in and has ties to multiple fossil fuel corporations. These companies include ExxonMobile and Saudi Aramco. As reported by Farrago in 2020, these ties don’t just stop at investment.
The 2017-2020 Sustainability Plan’s target was to “have divested from, or be in the process of divesting from” any investments “that do not satisfy the requirements of the University’s sustainable investment framework for managing material climate change risk” by 2021.
The investment framework includes assessing fund managers is based on six criteria, including “exercising of stewardship responsibilities to mitigate climate change risk”.
The updated University divestment framework is currently being developed by the University Sustainability Team, with the draft being finalised at the time of writing. This might be released in March 2022 however, the University has not confirmed this.
At the time of reporting, no divestment has occurred at the University of Melbourne.
Who else has divested?
Divestment movements with Australia are still fairly new. However, other Australian universities have already made significant divestment commitments. UNSW has made the decision to fully divest from companies whose “primary business is the ownership and exploitation of fossil fuel reserves by 2025”.
La Trobe University is another example of a university that has committed to divestment. In 2016, they claimed to “avoid investment in the top-200 fossil-fuel companies over five years” and their overall aim “was complete divestment”. They became the first university to commit to such goals.
There are other universities that have aimed to divest, or began to do so, but haven’t fully committed like La Trobe and UNSW. ANU also established a Social Responsibility Investment policy, which highlighted corporations that do “social harm” to avoid investment. However, in 2016 following a change in University leadership, this policy was abandoned.
The University of Sydney has also modelled a ‘sustainable investment’ strategy, as they chose to “exclude fossil fuel companies with inadequate transition plans”. However, as USyd student publication, Honi Soit reported: “This means that USyd will not be joining other Australian universities …which have endorsed plans to divest from all fossil fuel companies”.
Currently, Monash University is also in the midst of a divestment campaign. Their demands are to investigate and disclose the full carbon exposure of its investments; stop any new investments in fossil fuel extractions or usage, develop a strategic plan to transition its investment portfolio away from fossil fuels towards cleaner solutions.
What can we do?
Our divestment demands as a department are mirrored to those of other student-led divestment campaigns around the world. They are also in line with the community demands found in the University of Melbourne’s own Sustainability Community Consultation report. These demands are:
- That the University ceases any new investments in fossil fuels,
- That the University commits to divesting its existing investments from fossil fuels within 5 years, and
- The University instead invests in companies that have committed to mitigating their impact on climate change
In 2022, the UMSU Environment Department will be relaunching Divest UniMelb. This campaign will aim to pressure the University to achieve the above demands. This campaign will launch the first week of Semester 1, 2022 and will use diverse forms of protest to ensure inclusivity and accessibility in the campaign.
UMSU Enviro will also be launching the Environmental Justice Collective, a collective for accessible student involvement within the divestment campaign and other initiatives. Dates and locations will be advertised on our social media platforms. On top of this, regular updates will be announced for protests, workshops and speakers panels relevant to divestment.
We are in the process of reigniting Fossil Free UniMelb, a branch off of the fossil-free movement for involvement whose sole focus will be pressuring the University to detach itself from all fossil fuel dealings.
Our social media platforms, from the first week of Semester 1, will have a link for the Divest UniMelb petition for students to sign their name too, which will be delivered to the University.
Divestment is not only necessary to enact change, but also possible. However, it can only be done with student involvement.
How can you get involved?
If you want to help out with the Divest Now, UniMelb! campaign, you can sign the petition and follow the action and get involved with UMSU Enviro on Facebook (UMSU Environment) and Instagram (@umsuenviro).