7 October 2016

7 October 2016

Dear Fossil Free UQ representatives,

I refer to Fossil Fuel UQ’s briefing paper “Fossil Fuel Divestment and The University of Queensland” and attendance at the April and August Senate meetings.

The University Senate has carefully considered your submission. The Senate's view was that divestment would make no real difference and it was better to work with all parties and across all areas of the university to ensure effective action on climate change. Research in areas such as clean energy, renewable energy and sustainable development, together with a commitment to sustainable investment principles, are a greater measure of UQ's commitment on climate change than the gesture of divestment.

I would emphasise at the outset that the Senate accepts the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change and is committed to ensuring sustainability is embedded in our teaching, research, engagement and operational activities. I wanted to take this opportunity to set out in some detail what UQ is doing in these areas.

UQ’s investment portfolio

As at 30 June 2016, the value of the University’s managed investment portfolio was $169.2m. For the purposes of classifying its portfolio, the University’s investments have been separated into three distinct categories:

  • Companies involved in fossil fuel extraction or those with a direct fossil fuel exposure;
  • Companies with an indirect fossil fuel exposure (eg. banks and large industrial groups); and
  • Companies with no known exposure.

In applying the above classification, for the period July 2015 to June 2016 direct fossil fuel companies comprised an average of 3.82% of UQ’s total investment portfolio. It should be noted that the companies identified as having direct fossil fuel exposure may be involved in a diverse range of activities, some of which may not have direct fossil fuel exposure and indeed may include expanding alternative energy strategies.

The portfolio is managed in accordance with the University’s Management Investment Portfolio Policy. Under the policy, the University has appointed two Funds Managers (Dalton Nicol Reid and Hyperion) to manage its investment portfolio. The Fund Managers undertake their role in accordance with the University’s Management Investment Portfolio Policy, and guidelines for the management of the University’s managed investment portfolio. These guidelines are developed by the Finance Committee.

Both UQ Fund Managers are signatories to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Initiative. The PRI Initiative provides a holistic approach to sustainable investment rather than focusing on a single category such as investment in fossil fuel companies.

The six PRI principles recognise the materiality of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues that contribute to the development of a more sustainable global financial system. By being a signatory to the PRI Initiative, UQ’s Fund Managers are committed to the following principles:

  • Incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes;
  • Be an active owner and incorporate ESG issues into ownership policies and practices;
  • Seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which the Fund Managers invest;
  • Promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry;
  • Work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles; and
  • Report on activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

The PRI Initiative is considered the leading global network for investors to publicly demonstrate their commitment to responsible investment. The Initiative has over 1,500 signatories worldwide, including asset owners, investment managers and service providers, with over US$60 trillion assets under management. The PRI Initiative provides a framework for sustainable investment practices.

In managing the University’s investment portfolio, Dalton Nicol Reid have taken the PRI Initiative one step further through their Australian Equities Socially Responsible Portfolio. The investment process for this portfolio is augmented by research from Bloomberg as well as an assessment on environmental, social and governance considerations. This enables Dalton Nicol Reid to apply ESG screens to exclude any stocks in the portfolio that have involvement in pornography, gambling, armaments and tobacco, or include stocks representing enhanced environmental, social and governance policies. The University’s portfolio is invested in Dalton Nicol Reid’s Australian Equities Socially Responsible Portfolio.

In January 2016, a separate UQ Green Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) was established through Dalton Nicol Reid. This fund will not invest in companies involved with tobacco, armaments, gaming and pornography as they are not deemed to be social responsible investments (SRI).

In addition, the fund will not invest in companies excluded from the FTSE All-World ex Fossil Fuels Index. A company is excluded if it satisfies any of the following conditions:

  • classified as in the Industry Classification Benchmark (ICB) subsectors - Exploration and Production (0533), Integrated Oil and Gas (0537), Coal Mining (1771) and General Mining (1775); and either have
  • revenues arising from Bituminous Coal And Lignite Surface Mining (SIC code: 1221), Bituminous Coal Underground Mining (SIC code: 1222), Anthracite Mining (SIC code: 1231), Crude Petroleum And Natural Gas (SIC code: 1311) and Natural Gas Liquids (SIC code: 1321) based on the companies’ most recent published Annual Report and Accounts; or
  • proven and probable reserves in coal, oil or gas based on the companies’ most recent published Annual Report and Accounts.

UQ has committed $3m to the establishment of this fund which we see as complementing our commitment to the PRI initiative. The option to invest in this fund (as opposed to the normal UQ fund) will be provided to donors.

We note that mention have been made of divestment decisions by a very small proportion of the world’s universities. We believe further analysis is warranted on the finer details of these decisions. For example, there has been much publicity around the recent announcement by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) that “no fossil fuel investments of material significance” will form part of QUT’s investment portfolio that is held with its external fund manager, the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC). It is our understanding, that this does not necessarily preclude QIC from investing in fossil fuel companies. The QIC Growth Fund, in which QUT has invested, currently owns shares in fossil fuel companies that QUT considers “immaterial”. This is the same as The University of Queensland’s current investment portfolio. We hold no direct investments in fossil fuel companies and hold only a very small amount of investments in fossil fuel companies through our external fund managers.

Research activities

Over 130 researchers identify climate change as a component of their research focus. This figure does not include the full complement of research staff (research higher degree students, postdocs etc) so it therefore represents a conservative figure – the likely figure is estimated to be closer to 200.

UQ’s climate change research activities span five faculties and three institutes, with the majority of research effort and capacity within the Faculty of Science – notably in the School of Biological Sciences; School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management; School of Agriculture and Food Sciences; School of Earth Sciences; School of Mathematics. A full outline of the climate change related research activities is attached (Appendix 1).

The Global Change Institute (GCI), the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), and the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are also engaged in climate related research. Four of the five ARC Laureate Fellows in environmental science (Hoegh-Guldberg, Marshall, Mumby, Possingham) have world-class research groups that focus some of their activities on climate change. 

Some UQ scholars have been lead or contributing authors or reviewers for the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and hold positions of esteem for their research into climate change science, impacts and responses. For example, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg was the recipient of the Prince of Monaco Climate Change Award in 2014; Professors Paul Meredith and Peta Ashworth sit on the Queensland Productivity Commission’s Review Panel of the Queensland Renewable Energy Target; Professor Hussey has been invited to be a member of the Queensland Premier’s Climate Change Advisory Council.

Climate science

UQ has five of the world leading experts on the effects of climate change on tropical marine ecosystems (Hoegh-Guldberg, Lovelock, Mumby, Pandolfi, Richardson), including the coordinating lead author of the IPCC Chapter 30 on Oceans as part of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. These research efforts span ocean warming, coral bleaching, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, ocean productivity, and blue carbon stocks (including lead roles in CSIRO’s Coastal Carbon Cluster).

The ARC Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decision Making, led by Professor Hugh Possingham, is a global leading research centre for solving environmental management problems and for evaluating the outcomes of environmental actions, with a strong focus on change under a changing climate.

The University of Queensland manages the National Environmental Science Programme Threatened Species Recovery Hub that works across key themes to inform and support on-ground responses that reduce threats (both through direct human action and climate change) and promote recovery of threatened species and build a better understanding of their status, threats and management options.

Climate change policy and economics

Besides research strengths in the science of climate change, UQ also has research strengths relating to climate change mitigation and adaptation policy, economics, public health, political science, engineering, economic, business, legislation, communication and education (refer Appendix 1).

Renewable Energy

UQ Energy research has expertise in transforming traditional energy technologies and systems to account for climate change, as well as significant strengths in supporting renewable energy technologies and the development of new concepts and emerging solutions.

The UQ Energy Initiative is a high profile, external engagement ‘hub’ for UQ’s energy expertise, and has a strong focus on climate change and the transition of the energy sector in the coming decades.

In the last 12 months alone, UQ has hosted six internationally-acclaimed climate scientists, economists and public policy scholars from world-class institutions in the United States and Europe.


Climate change forms a major component of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching content across multiple faculties, and it is also a core issue in the Master of Environmental Management, the Master of Energy Studies, the forthcoming GCI Global Change Scholars Program, the MOOC Denial 101x and the MOOC Carbon 101x (to be launched in February 2017).

Outreach and community engagement

CoralWatch is a citizen science project based at The University of Queensland that focuses on coral health and coral bleaching observations – a research program that is increasingly important owing to climate change.

The Global Change Institute hosts thousands of students and members of the public each year through weekly tours of the GCI’s Sustainable Building, which is the 37th most sustainable university building in the world. Almost all of the technologies used in the building relate to reducing the carbon footprint of built infrastructure. The Advanced Engineering Building has adopted many of the same principles. On the basis of the low-carbon credentials of these buildings, UQ has been invited to join the CRC for Low Carbon Living (hosted by UNSW).

We are also pleased to support the Great Barrier Reef Foundation through the Vice-Chancellor’s membership on the Chairman’s Panel. The Foundation is the only charity in the world dedicated solely to raising funds for scientific research to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef.

Operational activities

As an institution of global standing, UQ is committed to reducing all aspects of its environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this, a dedicated Energy and Sustainably office was established within the Property and Facilities division. The core purpose of this team is to reduce the impact of the University’s operations, with a particular focus on energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

As a large emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, UQ is required to calculate and report its carbon footprint annually. In the 2015/16 financial year, this carbon footprint was 118,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e).

Energy usage makes up around 98% of UQ’s carbon footprint, with over 95% of this energy used at four sites – St Lucia, Gatton, Herston and the Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence (PACE). The St Lucia campus alone uses the same amount of energy each year as around 20,000 average Queensland homes. As a result, reducing energy usage is essential to reducing UQ’s climate impact. Indeed, we believe this is a key obligation of any large emitter of carbon dioxide, including all universities.

The work of the Sustainability Unit is having a significant impact. UQ’s carbon footprint has decreased by 14% since 2010/11 and continues to trend down. Grid electricity usage – the largest component of this footprint – is also declining rapidly. So far in 2016, UQ’s electricity usage is over 5% lower than the same period last year. As a result, energy usage today is now lower than it was in 2011, despite the growth of the organisation over this time. These results have been achieved through UQ’s continued on-the-ground investment and action across a range of areas.

As a university in the ‘Sunshine State’, UQ has worked hard to position itself as a leader in clean energy deployment. We now have over 47,000 individual solar panels installed across 28 buildings. Collectively, this 5.8 megawatts of solar capacity generates over 8.4 million kWh per annum – enough to power 1,450 average Queensland homes. This clean energy source avoids the burning of 2.9 million kilograms of coal, saving 7.75 million kilograms of CO2-e emissions – the same as taking 3,000 cars off the road. This positions UQ as one of the largest solar energy generators in Australia, and one of the largest solar universities in the world. Real time and historical data on electricity generated by the UQ St Lucia solar array is available on the UQ website ( http://solar.uq.edu.au/user/reportPower.php).

Beyond solar, UQ is also actively involved in the trial and demonstration of other emerging clean energy technologies. An example of this is the recent commissioning of a pilot ‘Ground Source Heat Pump’ geothermal air conditioning system at the Gatton campus library. The opportunity for a biogas capture and energy generation facility at the Gatton campus is also currently being investigated and has been given in-principle approval to proceed. As well as contributing to reducing UQ’s greenhouse gas emissions, this infrastructure is playing a key role in helping to foster wider uptake of clean energy across Australia. The lessons learned from UQ’s clean energy journey are being shared freely to inform and inspire others. The Gatton campus solar farm in particular has become a key educational resource in this regard, and is visited almost weekly by representatives from industry and government.

Reducing the energy used by buildings and equipment is another key component of UQ’s strategy to reduce the organisation’s climate impact. A comprehensive energy efficiency program is focused on making changes across the areas of air conditioning, mechanical plant, lighting, hot water, and building fabric in order to improve the efficiency of operations while still maintaining or improving the estate condition. A small sample of the work from this program includes:

  • Retrofitting over 25,000 lights to efficient technologies over the past five years, alongside installing motion sensors and other lighting control technologies;
  • Implementing a system to match air conditioning schedules in teaching spaces to class timetables;
  • Optimising central air conditioning plant – efficiency improvements of 40%+ have been observed at the Queensland Bioscience Precinct plant for example;
  • Installing variable speed drives on large pumps and fans;
  • Tuning the air conditioning schedules and control strategies of individual buildings – the General Purpose South building saw electricity usage reduce by over 30% following this exercise; and
  • Replacing electric hot water units with solar hot water or point-of-use systems.

In 2016 alone, over 100 individual energy efficiency initiatives will be implemented. Whilst these initiatives may be small individually in the context of overall energy usage, collectively they add up to make a big difference. They will deliver an additional 6,000+ tonnes of emissions reduction each year.

Despite the progress to date, significant further opportunities remain to continue to reduce UQ’s energy impact. This includes the continued systematic improvement of individual buildings, fundamentally redesigning the way climate control is provided to energy intensive laboratory spaces, and upgrading central air conditioning plant.

Transport is another notable area of UQ’s impact. Whilst not calculated as part of UQ’s official carbon footprint, the impact of staff and student commuting is significant. Encouraging the uptake of sustainable transport options is a key area of focus with regular promotional activities and the investment in suitable infrastructure. There are over 2,400 bicycle rack spaces available across campuses – up 22% from 2013. We now have over 71% of the St Lucia campus population travelling to campus by public transport, cycling or walking – with this rate continuing to steadily rise according to annual surveys.

UQ is also helping to foster the wider uptake of sustainable transport options. Most notably, this includes installing Queensland’s first solar powered electric vehicle (EV) fast chargers at the St Lucia and Gatton campuses in March 2016. Unlike regular wall outlets, these chargers are able to deliver 70 kilometres of range in just 15 minutes and are widely recognised as essential infrastructure for helping overcome the ‘range anxiety’ traditionally associated with EVs. This is particularly important for the Gatton campus, which is also Queensland’s first fast charger in a regional location. This infrastructure is already creating change, with over 9,000km of charge provided in the first three months of operation – enough to drive from Brisbane to Perth and back. To compliment this, the first fully electric vehicle is also due to join UQ’s corporate fleet by the end of 2016.

The natural environment of UQ’s campuses is also playing a key role in the organisation’s response to climate change. Since 2013, over 21,000 trees have been planted across the St Lucia and Gatton campuses. These trees are helping to restore 25 acres of land to native, biodiverse vegetation. Furthermore, these trees are also expected to sequester over 2,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetime.

UQ is a firm believer that the world should move towards a more energy-efficient mode of operation where an ever increasing proportion of energy is produced without creating greenhouse gas emissions. This belief is demonstrated through our actions, many of which are detailed above. We look forward to continuing this good work alongside our staff, students and communities. In UQ’s view, this approach should be emulated by a larger number of universities and we hope that students are encouraging others to do likewise.

I suspect you will be disappointed at the Senate’s decision not to accept your recommendations. However, I hope you will acknowledge the comprehensive approach that the University is taking towards meeting the challenges of climate change and why we consider that changes to our investment policies is not warranted.

Yours sincerely

Mr Peter N Varghese AO



The following researchers are all engaged in climate change–related research and/or education


Research interests

Faculty of Science


Impacts of climate change, marine ecology, and analyses of large datasets using modern statistical techniques

Geography, Planning and Environmental Management























The effects of climate and landscape change on biodiversity

Climate change and the impacts this has on the ability of people and communities to continue living in their homelands

Paleoclimatology of the Western Pacific Basin

Biogeography, conservation planning, climate change adaptation and ecology

Land surface-atmosphere energy exchanges, complex terrain wind fields, dust transport, climate change and variability

Effects of sea-level rise on coastal ecosystems

Landscape ecology, biodiversity conservation and climate change

River system response to both changing climate and human impacts

Geomorphic impacts of floods and sediment transport

Nutrient processes and dynamics in coastal ecosystems, climate adaptation at local and community scales

Political economy of climate change mitigation

Link between climate change, oceanography and biological responses

Decision-making in wicked problems with multiple objectives, optimal climate adaptation strategies

Remote Sensing in terrestrial and aquatic environments

Palaeoecology in Australia

Freshwater biogeochemical reactive transport, carbon and nutrient cycling

Landscape ecology and conservation policy

Remote Sensing in aquatic environments

Systematic conservation planning, resource management decisions

Spatial conservation prioritisation

Environmental policy, governance and economics

Evaluation of the effectiveness of environmental regulation, climate change and greenhouse gas accounting

Understanding the mechanism of human intervention on the environment

School of Biological Sciences























Plant community ecology, conservation biology, climate change biology

Physiological and behavioural responses to changing environmental conditions

Climate change impacts and biodiversity conservation using spatial modelling

Molecular biology, evolution and genetics of mosquitoes in the Southwest Pacific region

Species conservation and management, impact of climate change on species population dynamics

Influence of environmental change, including climate change, on the ecology of coastal communities

Ecological dynamics of coral reef ecosystems over broad spatial and temporal scales

Interactions between people and nature

Landscape ecology, disturbance theory, ecosystem resilience and recovery

Restoration, population and community ecology

Effect of temperature on physiological processes and respiratory gas exchange

Coral reef ecology, climate change effects, management

Ocean acidification

Connectivity of the crown-of-thorns starfish

Coral community and population dynamics, effect of climate change in coral ecosystems

Trade-offs and synergies in ecosystem services, sustainable agriculture, food security

Ecology and conservation of forest ecosystems

Applied conservation resource allocation

Quantitative field ecology, carbon economies

Conservation decision making in the terrestrial Antarctica and sub-Antarctic

Effects of elevated temperature and acidification on coral physiology

Organism responses to environmental variation

 Interaction of climate/climate change and biodiversity

School of Agriculture and Food Sciences







Plant nutrition

Plant nutrition, ecophysiology

Soil and environmental science, plant nutrition

Impacts of population growth, changing consumption patterns and climate change on food security

Diseases of tropical crops

System dynamic modelling of the relationships between coastal and marine resource use

Social-ecological systems and resilience, natural resource management

School of Earth Sciences


Palaeoecology, geochronology, zoology and modern conservation

Late Pleistocene and Holocene reconstruction of ENSO using marine invertebrates and terrestrial sediments

School of Engineering


Coastal and ocean engineering

Catchment management impacts on inshore ecosystem, ecosystem based management

Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology


School of Chemical Engineering

Director – UQ Energy Initiative


Modelling drivers for environmental change in aquatic ecosystems, climate change


Environmental sustainability of Australian food systems


Public attitudes to climate and energy technologies


Urban metabolism and the water-energy nexus

School of Architecture

Cross-cultural study of the ethno-environmental relations of indigenous peoples


Well-being and architecture


Indigenous cultural heritage, ethnobotany and environmental management

Faculty of Medicine

School of Public Health

Public and environmental health


Public health and epidemiology


Sustainable health of people, wildlife and ecosystems



Faculty of Business, Economics and Law

School of Business

Financial impacts of corporate adaptation and resilience to climate change impacts


Relationship between events and climate change


Sustainable tourism destination policy and planning, climate change and Indigenous tourism


Climate change adaptation and mitigation measures


Strategic management of intangible resources

School of Economics

Production economics, risk and uncertainty, market access, bio-security, one-health and policy


Research economist and as a commentator on Australian economic policy


Environmental and natural resource economics


Renewable energy economics, modelling complex economic systems, economics of innovation


Trade and development, productivity growth, income distribution and poverty, environmental sustainability issues


Empirical and policy analysis in agricultural economics, tourism economics, international trade and energy

School of Law

Food security, biodiversity and farmers' rights


Comparative criminal justice, theoretical criminology, socio-legal studies of punishment and society


Carriage of goods by sea, admiralty law, marine insurance


Environmental and economic anthropology


Climate change adaptation, blue carbon, biodiversity offsets

Faulty of Humanities and Social Sciences

School of Political Science and International Studies

Relationship between security and environmental change, politics of climate change in Australia

School of Social Science



Transformation of local and global food systems in light of shifting social relations and global environmental change

Political ecology of resource conflicts

Agriculture, the environment and the politics of sustainability

School of Education

Student learning in science, assessment in science education, teacher professional learning



Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences

School of Psychology


Understanding how people respond to climate change

Examining intragroup and intergroup relations in the context of identity threat and response to criticism


Global Change Institute


Climate change effects on marine ecosystems.

Public policy and governance, sustainable development

Psychology of climate change denial

New sustainable high tech materials for more efficient production of solar energy

Market and economic modelling of the impacts of distributed generation

Resilience of electricity systems (PhD candidate)

Climate policy and ecological economics

Modelling of energy, environmental and economic problems

Treatment and use of water with social, environmental and economic considerations

Application of trans-disciplinary approaches in food systems, human geography, and mapping

Climate impacts on tropical marine environments

Coral reef ecology and ecosystem resilience

Modelling climate impacts on vegetation cover and impact of land cover change on regional climates

Sustainability and food security

Public policy, governance and institutional arrangements associated with sustainability and global change issues

Coral reef ecology and ecosystem resilience

Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation 




Biochemical and molecular tools to develop improved crop varieties to improve food and energy security

Quantitative, population, evolutionary and molecular genetics, breeding objectives and strategies

Climate impacts and risks related to agricultural production, agro-ecological and environmental modelling

Improving climate resilience of tropical tree crops

Functional structural plant modelling

Crop development, adaptation and performance

Queensland Brain Institute

Understanding how animals perceive their environment through their sensory systems; CoralWatch

Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions












Conservation biology, environmental decision making

Development and conservation goals with a focus on how new market mechanisms

Socio-economic aspects of conservation decision-making and management and operationalizing resilience

Species conservation and management implementation

Optimal use of natural resources to maximise the productivity of human and ecological systems

Modelling the effects of disturbances and stochastic processes on population dynamics

Identification of global- and local-scale conservation priorities using systematic conservation planning

Human social networks and their role in the effectiveness of conservation actions

Dynamic models and decision theory to improve conservation planning

Costs and benefits of managing protected areas

Patterns and processes shaping biodiversity of native and invasive species in a changing world

Impacts of environmental variability and change on marine and coastal social-ecological systems

Conservation decision making, applied ecology

Ecological theory to manage and conserve natural systems

Initiatives to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation