Trinity College has announced today its intention to sell off investments in fossil fuel companies, becoming the first Irish university to do so. The move comes in response to a 15 month student campaign, spearheaded in Trinity by Fossil Free TCD, to reduce the college’s dependence on the fossil fuel industry for income. Trinity currently has €6 million worth of investments in gas, coal and oil companies.
Speaking at the London event today, Fossil Free TCD member ̄Aine O’Gorman said: “Fossil fuel companies have spent vast sums of money funding climate change denial, in the face of clear scientific evidence to the contrary, and ensuring that the status quo around fossil fuel consumption is maintained.”
In selling off these investments, College will join a global movement to divest of fossil fuels. The “Divest-Invest” campaign will involve 678 institutions, including Trinity, and 58,399 individuals worldwide. Its members include governments, banks, insurance companies, and institutions in the health, education, and religious sectors. In total, they represent 77 countries and €5 trillion in assets. The pledge was announced on December 12th in London.
Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “Trinity intends to play our part in delivering the Paris Agreement…We made this decision following the impressive campaign of our own students ‘Fossil Free TCD’.”
Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kieran McNulty said that it was student efforts which brought about this decision by administration: “This was a student-led campaign. I hope this spurs on other universities and companies in Ireland to divest. Never doubt the power of young people and students to make change.”
Spokesperson for TCD Fossil Free, Deirdre Duff, also contributed: “By joining the international divestment movement, Trinity is sending a message that the fossil fuel era is ending.” Duff went on to say that divestment would be in companies’ interests, as reliance on fossil fuels is financially unsustainable. “The industry has around five times more carbon in these reserves than can be burned if warming is to be limited to 2 degrees as agreed by the world’s governments.” Duff said that these reserves could become “stranded assets” forming a “carbon bubble,” and divestment therefore “makes good financial sense.”
Meanwhile, the president of the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), Dr. James Browne, has committed to fossil fuel divestment in the university.
This follows a meeting last Wednesday of NUIG Students’ Union President, Jimmy McGovern, the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Society in NUIG and Dr. Browne regarding the divestment of €3.4 million worth of fossil fuel shares held by NUIG.
The agreement follows the submission of a petition with over 1,000 signatures to NUIG in last month, and a report highlighting the case for divestment. Browne will table a motion for full divestment of fossil fuel shares as well as the implementation of an ethical investment policy in early 2017.
Following the meeting, Dr. Browne said: “It is important for students to consider their role as global citizens who will shape our planet’s future. By advocating for an ethical policy on institutional investment, the CCAFS society and the Students’ Union leadership are highlighting an important global issue which impacts on climate change, social equity and a range of important ethical issues today. I look forward to working with our students to promote a transparent and ethical investment policy at NUI Galway, including fossil fuel divestment.”
Colm Duffy, Auditor of the CCAFS Society, said: “We are thrilled with the response so far from Dr Browne, and see today’s result as a significant step towards divestment. We are looking forward to announcing NUI Galway’s commitment to divestment, and implementation of an ethical investment policy in February. We are hopeful that successes here, and in Trinity College, are the beginning of a cascade effect among Irish universities.”
In September 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) calculated that climate change would cause approximately 250,000 deaths each year between 2030 and 2050, unless measures were taken by governments worldwide to curtail it. This September, a collaborative study found that global temperatures would rise beyond 2°C, the projected survivable limit of increase, if reliance on fossil fuels continues. The study was coordinated by 15 organisations, including Oil Change International, the Rainforest Action Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network.
According to the study, the oil reserves in operation fields alone would raise the global temperature beyond 1.5°C. The study recommended banning all new fossil fuel extraction projects and the decommissioning of certain fields and mines where resources have not yet been completely removed. The study does not call for an immediate halt to all fossil fuel industries, but a “managed decline” and a “just transition for the workers and communities that depend on (the fossil fuel industry).”
On 29 November 2015, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in cities in 175 countries across the world, calling for stronger and more direct action from their governments against climate change. These demonstrations took place while the COP21 summit in Paris took place, where 195 countries signed the first-ever universal, legally-binding agreement to combat climate change. In doing so, all signatories pledged to keep carbon emissions in their countries within 2°C of pre-industrial levels. TCD students were represented at the Dublin march by bodies such as TCDSU, Fossil Free TCD and the Environmental Society.
Additional reporting by Niamh Lynch.