Fossil Fuel Divestment at UC: Q & A with Nick Hanafin

Nick Hanafin is a geography student at the University of Canterbury, and he has been involved with the “University of Canterbury: divest from fossil fuels” – campaign from its beginning in April this year. We talked to him about divestment and his campaign. 

Nick Hannafin
Nick Hanafin

What is fossil fuel divestment? Fossil fuel divestment is the policy of selling investments in the fossil fuel industry for ethical reasons. Divestment from fossil fuels and increasing investment in renewable energy has become an important part of the fight against climate change. Divestment was instrumental in the downfall of the South African Apartheid regime, and it is now being used to take on the fossil fuel industry. It is widely accepted that to restore a stable climate system, 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the earth, yet fossil fuel companies are continuing to seek and develop new resources.

What is it so important? Divestment is important because unlike international policy efforts, which have made no difference to the continuing rapid increase of greenhouse gases, divestment can tackle the issue at the source by taking exploration funding out of this reckless industry.

What is the situation at UC re:divest divestment? The University of Canterbury has a scholarship trust fund of about $100 million invested in international share markets, which is managed by financial institutions on UCs behalf, and they are instructed to spread this evenly across the market. As such, this fund includes a significant proportion of fossil fuel industry investment.

 What’s been happening so far at UC and the divestment campaign ? Late in April a letter was sent to the University Council and the UC Foundation (trust fund) requesting divestment from fossil fuels. It was signed by 30 UC academic staff, 12 students and 3 clubs. Next we launched an online petition, which has reached about 300 signatures so far.
On the May 11th Canta published our initial request letter. A week later Vice Chancellor Dr Carr spoke at the UCSA Student Forum and confirmed that our letter had been received and referred to the financial subcommittee. Dr Carr said that divestment was an issue complicated by the issues of ethical research funding (the Academic Board is currently considering whether research funding should be accepted from ethically questionable sources, possibly including fossil companies), and our coal boiler use, which he said would make our divestment “hypocritical” while still consuming fossil fuels ourselves. 11118623_10152755966877522_7974001796777112652_n
My view on this is that both of these issues are separate from the divestment issue. On-campus research funding sources are unrelated to overseas investment by the university. The hypocrisy claim is a classic anti-environmental argument, but as the VC of Victoria University said about divestment, choice is a prerequisite of hypocrisy, and currently the coal usage is much less simple to stop quickly than our fossil fuel investing. Divestment is the easier step to take, and we can do it now.On the 9th of June we received an official reply from the Chancellor Dr John Wood. He also mentioned the ethical funding decision, but didn’t to say how it relates to the divestment decision. He stated that divestment would involve giving up the safety of using fund managers, and increasing our risk by managing investment individually. A bizarre argument, as there are many reputable and large funds pools available that are fossil free. He also mentioned a Sustainability Policy that was being developed that would also encompass how funds are spent, and so address our overall carbon footprint.
 Do you have examples of universities that are already divesting? At least 34 universities around the world have divested their fossil fuel investments, including Wellington’s Victoria University. Otago has just announced divestment of half of its $50 million investments, half to go!

Stanford University in California is one of the most prestigious universities to divest from fossil fuel companies so far. When they divested a year ago, they were producing heating and electricity from fossil fuels. Recently Stanford upgraded their facilities, achieving a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

UC has recently joined the Carbon Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme. This mechanism could encourage a transition from our coal reliance, however our group’s focus in on our fossil fuel industry investments, not on our local energy usage.

How important is it for UC students to speak up about divestment? What can they do to show their support? Student and staff support is crucial to the campaign, simply to encourage the administration to make the right decisions. Signing the petition is the first step: Or visit our Facebook page: “Canterbury Uni Fossil Free”, like us and share the petition (up top) or the group with your friends. Message us if you would like to join the campaign team for some on-campus fun!

Want to know more about the Sustainability Strategy at UC? Check here.



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