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

03 March 2017

On Tuesday 28 February, the Convocation of the University of Cape Town overwhelmingly passed a motion 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 can selects six members of Council (which steers the critical decisions involved in running the university).

The divestment motion was proposed by David Le Page of Fossil Free UCT and Fossil Free SA, who 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 amendment was opposed by Le Page, however, and 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 extremely 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 had met with the Vice-Chancellor to hand over 500 signatures from academics and students calling for UCT to divest.

Stated 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, cannot yet be 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.

Full text of the divestment motion, what it means for UCT and why this is important here.

Cormac Cullinan is a Founding Member of Fossil Free SA.

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