On 17 May 2016, the African Climate Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town hosted a seminar on fossil free divestment at the university. The event was a partnership between ACDI, the Climate Action Project and Fossil Free UCT.
Fossil Free UCT has been campaigning since 2013 for UCT to divest from fossil fuels. The university has, in response, established an ethical investing task team, which is currently considering structures and procedures to consider divestment and other responsible investing issues. Divestment remains very low as a priority on the student agenda, and there is considerable reluctance and resistance amongst academics to the idea of divestment, even amongst those who accept and acknowledge the need for deep and urgent action on climate change.
Divestment is particularly technically challenging in South Africa, which has (with China) one of the world’s two most fossil-fuel intensive economies, and no existing culture of ethical investing. Remarkably, few South Africans are aware of or remember that our country benefited greatly from one of history’s most significant divestment campaigns, that against apartheid.
Professor Alexandra Watson is the Richard Sonnenberg Professor of Accounting at UCT. She is a member of the board of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Alexandra is also on the board of Coronation Asset Management, and serves on the UCT Ethical Investing Task Team.
Ralph Hamann is Professor at the GSB, and he holds a Research Chair with the UCT African Climate and Development Initiative.
Kirtanya Lutchminarayan is a Masters student in the science faculty, a representative of the Green Campus Initiative, and a long-time supporter of Fossil Free UCT.
The discussion was chaired by David Le Page of Fossil Free UCT/SA, a UCT alumnus and environmental journalist.