19 April 2016

University of Queensland Chief Operating Officer Mr Greg Pringle met with a student delegation from Fossil Free UQ on Monday.

The students have an appointment to meet with Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj in early May.

 Prior to that, Mr Pringle will outline to the students information as appropriate on the University’s investment portfolio.

Mr Pringle told the students he would ensure ongoing regular communication about the University’s position on divestment.

He also undertook to ensure the University Senate would be informed of Fossil Free UQ’s actions and concerns at its meeting this week, with a Fossil Free UQ member attending as a non-participating observer for that part of the meeting.

Mr Pringle has invited the group to submit a paper to the Senate for advisory before the next Senate meeting, set down for 16 June.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said The University of Queensland recognised the need to provide university donors the option to have funds managed through an investment portfolio that could reasonably be considered ‘fossil fuel-free’.

“We have established a new Green Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) portfolio that is available as an option to new donors to the university,” he said.

This portfolio is considered fossil-free in that it excludes most of the energy and resources sector in Australia.

It excludes all companies involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas and in coal mining and general mining; that have:

  • Revenues arising from bituminous coal and lignite surface mining, bituminous coal underground mining, anthracite mining, crude petroleum and natural gas and natural gas liquids, or
  • Proved and probable reserves in coal, oil or gas.

This means every company classified under the FTSE Ground Rules ex Fossil Fuels Index Series is excluded from the fund.

Investment portfolios excluding fossil fuels have performed well in recent years, with falls in the price of oil and other commodities.

Professor Høj said divestment from existing fund agreements was not always as simple or as effective as some may hope.

“Donors have provided UQ with trust funds and bequests under certain agreements, and we are obliged to honour these agreements,” he said.

“Therefore the university will maintain existing investment arrangements across $160 million of previously donated funds.

“It is important to note that this existing UQ portfolio is already considered socially-responsible, as it is managed by external fund managers DNR Capital, signatories to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

Professor Høj said UQ embedded a commitment to environmental sustainability across teaching, research, engagement and operational activities through the UQ Sustainability initiative, and continued to innovate towards change on a global scale, particularly through:

  • The Global Change Institute, which aims to address the impacts of climate change, technological innovation and population growth.

He said donations made in perpetuity to the university are invested in perpetuity, with only the investment earnings distributed annually for use throughout the university.

“UQ has about 400 such existing accounts, distributing funds to a broad range of research areas, including cancer treatment, dementia and climate change.”

Professor Høj said universities were spaces of idea-sharing and robust discussion, and peaceful demonstration on campus that fell within the law would not be stifled.

“I fully appreciate the students' commitment to advancing the awareness of climate change and its impacts on the environment and I’m delighted to see UQ students working towards creating change to achieve goals they can see will serve the greater global good,” he said.

“I too believe that climate change is a concern of the highest order and that decisive actions must be taken.”

Media: Carolyn Varley, UQ Communications, c.varley@uq.edu.au, 0413 601 248.