July 29, 2014

Counselling the ANU Council

Counselling the ANU Council for the second time in two months, the Fossil Free ANU campaign has been invited to address the universities top decision makers – here’s what took place at the meeting last Friday.

On Friday I stood in front of the entire ANU Council to tell them, on behalf of the Fossil Free ANU campaign, that they are investing the university’s money irresponsibly and so are in breach of their own policies.

It’s pretty daunting really to tell an assembly of business, academic and political heavyweights (Gareth Evans is the Chancellor) that they are implicit in the wrongdoings of the fossil fuel industry and are putting the portfolio at risk.

Doing so eighteen months ago would have seemed unthinkable – but such is the strength of our movement, the depth of evidence from the finance sector and diversity of institutions already divesting. It’s now not only reasonable, but imperative for the to be hearing this message.

Due to the pressure applied by Fossil Free ANU, the Council agreed last November to create a Socially Responsible Investment policy. It was vague and wasn’t accompanied by an implementation plan, but it was a start. On Friday, they were meant to show us the plan to make sure their investments were not causing ‘significant social harm’. It became apparent that plan is still in the works and that an external consultant has been contracted to advise the Council on whether their investments are ethical.

And that’s really the kicker – why does the Council need to tell them whether the fossil fuel industry is an ethical investment to hold? They need only turn to their top climate scientists, health researchers and development lecturers to see plainly that big coal, oil and gas have this planet on a treacherous path. The ANU doesn’t invest in tobacco companies because tobacco kills – it’s unethical. Well recent research from the UN estimates 300,000 deaths are being caused by climate change every year. And that figure will only grow.

If the Council came out and declared that fossil fuel investments are unethical and that they were going to divest as fast as possible, they wouldn’t be stepping out on a limb. The Chancellor himself last year described Stanford University as a Gold Standard for investment practices. Well recently Stanford committed to divest from coal.

It was encouraging to see nods around the table as I spoke. Even if they are yet to speak publicly, I hope that each Councillor was weighing truly the obligation upon them to take this issue seriously and speak amongst their peers about the need for this university to stand up and be counted as an institution that supported true action on climate change, not to bear the shame in future years of being a laggard.

It was disappointing to see the Chancellor spend more time on the next agenda, a review of the recent Australian Leadership Forum he hosted which failed to put climate change on the agenda and gave centre stage to several large fossil fuel companies. Thankfully one Councillor did reproach the Chancellor for the climate omission.

Ultimately, we present the ANU with an opportunity – to be a leader, to shed the ‘coal standard’ and like Stanford once more be celebrated as a Gold Standard university. That’s the challenge they must rise to.

In October the Council will decide on how it will implement the Responsible Investment Policy. You can sign up to support the campaign here and help ensure that fossil fuels are taken off the ANU’s books.

A full copy of the speech is available here. It is represents the collaborative work of dozens people over the three years of the campaign and particular thanks is due to Tom Swann for his support in its writing.