Victoria University to divest from fossil fuels

2 December 2014

Victoria University of Wellington is the first university in New Zealand to signal its intention to divest all its investments from fossil fuels, basing the decision on climate science.

This is a major milestone for the institution, demonstrating true leadership from a New Zealand university on the world stage.

While Victoria University’s charitable trust, which manages funds raised on behalf of the University, has never held any significant direct investments in the fossil fuel industry, the University wants to confirm the investment exclusion, reflecting its objectives in the areas of reducing its carbon footprint and committing to sustainability.  

The University based its decision on international scientific research which “strongly suggests that unless the world reduces its reliance on fossil fuels, climate change and ocean acidification will have severe impacts on life on land and in our oceans,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford. 

Other factors taken into account were the business continuity risks from sea level rises to Victoria’s low lying Pipitea Campus, and the investment risks of ‘stranded assets’ in the fossil fuels sector.

“The University recognises that the world is still reliant on the fossil fuel industry, and the intent of this decision is not to vilify responsible companies in the sector. It’s important to us that the University aligns its investment decisions with the results of its scientific research and its public stance on climate change, while we continue to work on actively reducing our own carbon footprint. We will also continue to provide impartial advice and support to this industry as it works to develop alternative energy sources that accelerate the transition to a sustainable future,” he says.

Victoria University is the first university in New Zealand to take this step, joining international universities including Australian National University, Stanford University and Glasgow University in withdrawing from investment in fossil fuel or coal companies.

Rick Zwann, student and Vice President of Welfare for the Victoria University Student Association, says, “I’m proud to be studying at a university that has taken the lead in divesting from fossil fuels. This shows a commitment to take action on climate change. It is an excellent, forward-looking decision for current and future generations of students”.

“Universities are centres of scientific research and critical thinking and have a clear vested interest in young people – who will be some of the most affected by climate change – so they are rightly leading the charge in saying that investing in fossil fuels is no longer an investment in our future,” says Ashlee Gross, Victoria University alumni and 350 Aotearoa Spokesperson.

According to a study by Oxford University, the global divestment movement ‘Go Fossil Free’ has grown faster than any previous divestment campaigns including anti-apartheid, armaments and tobacco. Action has been taken to divest by the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune and many faith institutions around the world including the Anglican and Presbyterian churches of New Zealand.

Victoria University has recently appointed New Zealand’s first Assistant Vice-Chancellor of Sustainability to strengthen the University’s contribution to a wide range of environmental issues. Victoria University is also New Zealand’s only signatory of the Talloires Declaration, a declaration of sustainability signed by more than 400 universities and colleges around the world.

To find out more about how your business or investment funds can divest from fossil fuels, click here. To find out more about the Sustainable Business Network’s sustainable investment work, click here

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