University of Cape Town

Coal, oil and gas investments to be phased out, UCT Convocation votes

2 Mar 2017, Cape Town: On Tuesday 28 February, the Convocation of the University of Cape Town overwhelmingly passed a non-binding motion – read the minutes of the meeting (pdf) – for the university to rid itself of all investments in fossil fuels within five years. Should the university council agree to this motion, it would make UCT the first African University to formally commit to divesting from fossil fuels.

Convocation is a statutory body of the university comprised of all graduates, vice-chancellors and academic staff, which can express opinions and selects six members of Council (the university’s highest decision-making body).

The divestment motion was proposed by David Le Page of Fossil Free UCT, Fossil Free SA and UCT’s own Ethical Investment Task Team. He reminded the gathering of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 2014 call for UCT to phase out its fossil fuel investments. The motion was seconded by Dr Yvette Abrahams, who spoke of the severe impacts of climate change, especially on African women and vulnerable people, and urged the university to “practice what we teach”.

The UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, said he mostly supported the motion, but requested an amendment to the specific call for divestment within five years, arguing that it pre-empted the ongoing work of the Ethical Investment Task Team. His proposed amendment was narrowly defeated in a vote. Convocation then moved to pass the unamended version of the motion 107 to 25, with 15 abstentions.

Despite being non-binding, Convocation’s endorsement of divestment is significant, as it marks yet another call from the university community to the administration to align the university’s investments with its values. In November, students from the Green Campus Initiative and Climate Action Project met with the Vice-Chancellor to hand over 500 signatures from academics and students calling for UCT to divest.

Concerns that divestment could reduce the university’s income from its investments should not be dismissed, but unless the university discloses the content of its actual portfolios in accord with best practice for public institutions, have not yet been substantiated either. Fossil Free UCT urges the university to move to full disclosure, in accord with the draft recommendations of its own Ethical Investment Task Team, as soon as possible, to allow for more informed discussion of the matter.

Full text of the divestment motion passed by the UCT Convocation on 28 February 2017

The United Nations has called climate change “the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and human rights of our time.” But international commitments to reducing carbon emissions still fall far short of what is needed to limit dangerous climate change. This  unprecedented danger to humanity has inspired a global ethical movement for divestment from fossil fuel companies. At the same time, current international commitments to reduce carbon emissions and rapid technological change have already led many fund managers to reconsider their investments in these potentially stranded assets, while a growing number of studies show that responsible investment portfolios typically offer returns on a par with or superior to, conventional investment portfolios.

The global movement for divestment from fossil fuels on both ethical and prudential grounds now includes over 40 UK and US universities, cities of the stature of Copenhagen, Melbourne, Seattle and Oxford, and the total value of funds that have committed to various forms of divestment now approaches $5 trillion.

Over the past three years, close to five hundred staff, students and alumni have called on UCT to divest, a call that has the strong support of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, where the University’s climate change research is centred.

This motion commends the University and Council for establishing the Ethical Investment Task Team, and calls for urgent progress in completing the Task Team’s work, in fully disclosing the University and UCT Foundation’s investments in accord with best practice, and in opening the University’s investment decision-making process to representations from all interested parties.

The University’s mission statement commits us to the values of engaged citizenship and social justice. In accord with those values, we now move that the University makes a binding public commitment to phase out, at the least, over no more than five years, all investments in fossil fuel companies listed in the Carbon Tracker Top 200, seeking where advisable alternative investments in renewable energy. We also urge action in making UCT’s own operations and infrastructure more sustainable and carbon neutral.


Divestment Day is 13 February: join us at UCT

International Divestment Day is this coming Friday. Join us at UCT (details below). See other actions (comprehensive global list), such as Pretoria University (details below), or Stellenbosch.

Fossil Free UCT Bicycle Flash Mob And Human Microphone

Friday, February 13, 1:00 PM
Meeting point: Front of Centlivres Building (opposite Leslie Social Sciences), UCT Upper Campus, Rondebosch

We will meet with our bicycles in front of the Centlivres Building (opposite Leslie Social Sciences) on UCT Upper Campus at 1pm on Friday 13 February, and cycle to several different locations on campus to do a repeated short “human microphone” broadcast (see wiki for explanation) about the Fossil Free UCT campaign and why people should support us. Bring your bicycle, obviously. And please wear orange if you can. Estimated time: About one hour. Later in the afternoon, we will hang a banner over the M3. Contact: David: +27845220968.

More details and updates here:

Saturday, February 14, 10:00 AM Union Buildings, Pretoria, South Africa

We will be doing a photo stunt where we ask the South African public to divest from fossil fuels outside the office of our President at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. A photo stunt is a form of non-violent protest where you take a photo in an iconic location with your message depicted in the photo, so in this case: “SOUTH AFRICA DIVEST FROM FOSSIL FUELS”.

This event will take place in the morning and should be done before lunch time. It is a powerful way in which you can make a difference in this, the year of climate action. Please come and join us wearing something orange, the colour of our movement. Bring your family, bring your friends, bring your neighbours and bring any signs supporting our cause. We will be meeting at the base of the Nelson Mandela Statue, look forward to seeing you there! See:

Thundafund appeal closes

Our crowdfunding effort closed on 31 January. The funds raised will help make our work over the next few months more sustainable. Many thanks to everyone who contributed.

The world’s biggest investment fund divests

Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund has dropped investments in coal, oil sands, cement and gold mining, citing the risks of climate change and other environmental concerns.

Local renewable energy divestment opportunity

A joint agricultural and renewable energy (RE) farm is being developed on an emerging farm in the Breede River valley by the owner, the Ashton Small Scale Farmers Trust (ASSFT) and a consortium of experienced small and medium sized German RE companies (IPD Power), in collaboration with the NGO TCOE (Trust for Community Outreach & Education) in Cape Town. 75 MW of solar capacity is planned, and 20 MW of wind energy capacity will later be added. The project is looking for potential shareholders. FFSA really likes the sound of this project, but please do your own due diligence. Details: IPD Power – Bonnievale Solar farm Information 0215 (pdf).


Upcoming video shoot, Glasgow divests(!), and other news

Fossil Free UCT and GCI meet with the Collective to discuss divestment

Fossil Free UCT and GCI met with the Collective on 1 Oct to discuss divestment

Super important points

• We are shooting a video to support fundraising to expand this campaign. If you can spare us a couple of hours of your time on Saturday 25 October, please let us know. Email for details. The video will also serve as a promo for the campaign, especially at UCT.

• Our next working group meeting will be in Centlivres 3.29 at 5pm on Tuesday 21 October. It will be preceded by a 4pm  mini-training session – a chance to talk through and learn more about the campaign issues.

• Don’t forget to sign our UCT petition, if you’ve not done so already. And please register your support.

Other news

• On November 25 at lunchtime, there will be a screening of Do the Math in the Health Sciences Faculty, Medical Campus.

• Fantastic news – as you may already have picked up, Glasgow University has divested, the first university in the UK to do so.

• ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’ That’s how Business Spectator Australia summarises the message to fossil fuel interests from a new report by international investment bank UBS.

Investment bank UBS says in a new report that, following a series of meetings with clients, it sees the fossil fuel divestment campaign as significant and potentially effective. “Many of those engaged in the debate are the consumers, voters and leaders of the next several decades. In our view, this single fact carries more weight than any other data point on the planet for this issue,” UBS said in the report out of London.

• The Australian National University has dropped some of its dirtiest fossil fuel investments: ‘The Council of the Australian National University has agreed to the proposal by vice-chancellor professor Ian Young to drop the multi-million dollar investments following an investigation by independent research organisation CAER. The university will divest its holdings in Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources. The $16 million divested stocks represent about 5.5 per cent of the university’s Australian equity holdings and about 1 per cent of its total investment holdings.’

• Speaking of Australia, here’s some Aussie black humour on the subject of the coal industry.

Writing in the Guardian just before the UN Climate Summit, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has reiterated his divestment call: ‘Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a technical scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time… The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither.’

• Demonstrating the instability of economies based on fossil fuels, falling oil prices are “sending economic and political shockwaves around the world“.

Letter to UCT requesting details of investments, mandates, etc

Dr Max Price – Vice-Chancellor

CC: Prof Crain Soudien – Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Transformation and Social Responsiveness

CC: Prof Enrico Uliana – Director of Finance

CC: Peter Grant

CC: Prof Mark New – Pro-Vice-Chancellor: ACDI

CC: Hugh Amoore – Registrar

30 September 2014

Dear Dr Price

Working together on UCT’s investment strategy

Thanks again for your email of 30 July acknowledging our Fossil Free UCT campaign launch.

We are happy to relate that the launch was very successful, with over 100 people attending. Students, academic staff and alumni were well-represented at the event and nearly 30 members of the university community signed up for a working group which has since had several meetings. (more…)

Events, screenings and our petition now online

GO FOssil free UCT posterPlease sign our petition, now online, calling on UCT to divest from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable energy!

Forthcoming events (download poster)

30 September, 1pm, CS203: Screening of Do the Math, documentary about global fossil fuel divestment movement

1 Oct, 1pm, Jammie Plaza: Forum discussion of divestment with the Collective

6 October, 1pm, CS203: Screening of Do the Math, documentary about global fossil fuel divestment movement

Why should UCT divest from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable energy?

As we already know, the world’s governments have – on paper – committed to keeping global warming beneath an average 2 degrees, at most. You may not know that that level of warming already holds enormous dangers for Africa in particular. What’s more, if fossil fuel companies burn all their current declared reserves of oil, gas and coal, we would greatly overshoot that target – pushing global warming well beyond dangerous levels. Governments are nowhere close to matching their declared targets with sufficient actions.

The world’s investors – like UCT’s endowment fund – now face a choice: either invest in fossil fuels, and be complicit in what is increasingly recognised as a crime against future generations. Or scale back fossil fuel investments, particularly in favour of reinvestment in renewable energy and other sustainable industries. Yet UCT, despite being a declared centre of excellence in climate change research, effectively endorses the first choice – because the university is at present invested in fossil fuels.

Over the past two years, a campaign for fossil fuel divestment has begun on literally hundreds of campuses around the world. Thirteen universities, hundreds of civil society organisations, and cities like Seattle have already decided to divest.

In New York this week as the UN held an emergency summit on climate change, hundreds of organisations and individuals, including the Rockefellers and the Church of Sweden, announced a new commitment to withdraw a collective $50 billion from fossil fuels.

But Graça Machel, our UCT chancellor, told the UN  “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. The scale is much more than we have achieved.” (Read the full text of her address.)

So – UCT has an amazing opportunity to become a leader in an international campaign that will go down in history. The question is, how quickly will you and the leaders of the university respond? Will UCT be a responsive, compassionate and visionary leader, or will future generations hold us responsible for funding organisations and businesses that are destroying Earth as a safe habitat for humanity?

UCT chancellor Graca Machel addresses the United Nations on climate change

UCT chancellor Graca Machel addresses the United Nations on climate change: “Leaders must have the courage to displease thousands to protect billions”

For more about the events in New York, see:

• Union of Concerned Scientists Supports Fossil Fuel Divestment

• Heirs to Rockefeller oil fortune divest from fossil fuels over climate change

• Climate change summit: world leaders told to ‘step up ambition’

• Five ways Ban Ki-moon’s summit has changed international climate politics forever

For an insight into the lives of people staring down the barrel of devastating climate change, please watch this short video about the lives of the islanders of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean.

If you’d like to explore the world of climate modelling, and how we know we can broadly trust the science of climate change, see this TED talk by climatologist Gavin Schmidt.


Fossil Free UCT launch a great success

We’ll post more details and information over the next few days, but for the meantime, we’re very happy to report that our launch event for Fossil Free UCT at the university last night felt like a great success. The venue was literally overflowing with our 100 guests – staff, students, activists and other interested parties (this photo taken slightly before the full masses had arrived).

Launch of UCT Fossil Free 30 July 2014The vice-chancellor, Max Price, wrote to us beforehand saying that the university is looking into the issue, and the Joint Investment Committee is awaiting a report on the likely implications of a socially responsible investment policy. We’ve had very positive feedback from all who attended.

Many questions – and some objections – to the campaign were raised. We’re glad to have started the conversation, and our first working group meeting will be next Tuesday (August 5) at 5.30pm. Please watch our Facebook group for venue details.

In the meantime, here are some video clips of our speakers last night. We will post better footage and a more detailed summary of  proceedings soon.

Jolynn Minnaar, director of Unearthed, on the fossil fuel industry and divestment:

Richard Calland, associate professor of law, on the university’s responsibility for social leadership:

Professor Mark New of the African Climate Development Initiative, on probable African climate impacts:

Samantha Bailey, global organiser, on recent developments in the global divestment movement:

Samantha Bailey of addresses Fossil Free UCT launch meeting

Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports call for University of Cape Town to divest from fossil fuels

Desmond Tutu: People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.My dear friends at the University of Cape Town,

Climate change has become a profound and growing human rights issue, a threat to all of us, and to the world’s poorest, who are least responsible for it, most of all.

In May, I visited Alberta, Canada, where I saw how the relentless exploitation of tar sands is stripping away the rights of First Nations and affected communities to protect their children, land and water from being poisoned. Together with nine other Nobel Peace Prize recipients, I have called on President Obama to block the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, planned to carry oil from the tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico across the United States. Earlier this year, I called for all people and institutions of conscience to commit to divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Climate change is a particular injustice for Africans, because it is the world’s most vulnerable people who are already paying for developed countries’ failure to act with their lives and livelihoods. Our continent is home to many already carrying the burden of droughts, floods and increased disease that may have been worsened by the collective carbon emissions of humanity.

There are many ways that all of us can fight against climate change: by not wasting energy, for instance. But these individual measures will not make a big enough difference in the available time. It is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us. And it need not necessarily involve trading in our cars and buying bicycles!

During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure.

The University of Cape Town is perhaps the leading university on the African continent. It is a centre of excellence for climate change research, and is home to many leading voices on human rights and social justice. It makes no sense for the university or any other institution to invest in companies that undermine our collective future. It makes little sense for any South African institution to make new investments in mining coal – or fracking – in the name of economic development. We know these are the most short-sighted kinds of development. Their benefits will not last and their costs are immense – almost certain future danger and destruction for our most vulnerable people.

It is the world’s wealthiest countries and people who have benefited most from the use of fossil fuels, and have contributed most to global warming. It is time we took full responsibility for our past actions. People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change. I ask UCT to examine urgently the extent of your investments in fossil fuel companies and to make a strong commitment to phasing them out as soon as possible.

Desmond Tutu, 18 July 2014

The Fossil Free UCT campaign will be formally launched at a public meeting on the UCT Upper Campus on 30 July, 17h30-19h00, Leslie Social Sciences 1A