by Harriet Conron | @harrietconron
If you have shares or superannuation, or if you go to uni, you’re part of a lucky few. You have the power to vote with your feet, to influence where your money goes and what kinds of energy it funds. At the very least, you should get to know where your money is invested, right?
The ‘fossil-free’ movement says you do. This unlikely band of greenie economists and hippies in suits are trying to harness the power of the market to intervene in climate change.
At RMIT, there’s a group on campus working toward a greener university share portfolio. Fossil Free RMIT’s Jarrod Parker says his group has seen a real increase in the number of students wanting to get involved in the divestment movement in 2014.
“The university’s reluctance to provide information on its investment portfolio pretty much confirms that it’s not good news,” he says. “It’s fair to assume that they do have investments in fossil fuels.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy for ordinary people to work out whether their money is funding fossil-fuel industries. If you’re a member of a superannuation fund, chances are you don’t know precisely where your fund is investing your retirement savings.
The same goes for universities. Most have investment portfolios worth millions of dollars, but they work together to avoid revealing what exactly their money is funding. RMIT’s most recent annual report says that, at the end of 2013, it had $28 million invested in managed trust funds but lists no information about the companies on the receiving end of this money.
The Asset Owners Disclosure Project a global non-profit organisation campaigning for Universities and superannuation funds to reveal their share portfolios, says it believes ordinary investors and super fund members have the right to know where their money is going.
They argue that the ‘climate risk’ that goes with companies substantially involved in fossil fuel extraction is significant enough to threaten the retirement savings of super fund members whose money is invested in these companies.
Divestment is the brainchild of the fossil-free movement. Put simply, it’s the opposite of investment, i.e. the sale of assets (shares) in specific corporations. The aim of the fossil-free movement is to pressure superannuation funds and large public institutions, like universities and churches, to pull their money out of fossil-fuel industries.
2014 was a big year for divestment. At the ANU in Canberra, the university board voted to sell off $16 million in shares across seven natural resource corporations. Across the world, other universities have followed suit, including Stanford, Glasgow and the low-lying College of the Marshall Islands.
Catalyst is engaged in talks with RMIT on asset disclosure and will bring you an update in the next ext issue. This is the start of an ongoing Catalyst series investigating where RMIT invests its money.
For more information on the divestment campaign,visit the Fossil Free RMIT page on Facebook.