Over the last four years, students have led campaigns across 18 Australian campuses urging their universities to divest from fossil fuels. Currently, Australian universities invest millions of dollars through their endowments into fossil fuel companies that are putting our future at risk from the impacts of dangerous climate change.
It is known from recent reports since the signing of the UN Paris Agreement that if we are to avoid the severe impacts of global warming most of the current reserves of coal, oil and gas need to stay in the ground. Burning these reserves would cause global warming well beyond safe limits, exposing us to more severe storms, rising sea levels, droughts and further coral bleaching events.
Many institutions are already leading the way by divesting their assets from coal, oil and gas showing that they want a clean, just future powered by renewable energy.
Some 749 institutions have now divested more than US$5.53 trillion from fossil fuels globally over the last five years, including a third of universities in the United Kingdom.
Despite this global trend, most Australian universities have been resistant to divesting their assets from fossil fuel and related companies. This has led us to question the kinds of ties that exist between our universities and the fossil fuels industry.
What we have found is that many council members of leading universities either have ties to, or are non-executive directors of companies whose significant business is in fossil fuels.
Additionally, many universities have material ties to the industry, receiving funding for university projects from fossil fuel or related companies.
These ties could create a serious conflict of interest or bias when it comes to decisions around fossil fuel divestment, potentially jeopardising universities’ own endowment investments by failing to accurately consider climate change and stranded asset risks.
More research and transparency is needed to determine whether universities’ funding and research decisions are being affected by the links to the fossil fuels industry outlined in this report. Openly addressing potential conflicts of interest will be critical to ensuring universities are not part of Australia’s failure to adequately address climate change and take urgent steps to speed up the transition from polluting coal, oil and gas to the clean energy solutions needed right now. Students around Australia deserve a safe climate future. Our universities need to ensure they are leading the charge to urgently address climate change, not be part of the problem.