La Trobe University first in Australia to divest from fossil fuels

The university will fully phase out its investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies over the next five years and publish annual reports on its progress.

la trobe fossil free activists
Fossil Free La Trobe activists celebrate the university's announcement on May 25 that it will fully divest from fossil fuel companies over the next five years.

Melbourne’s La Trobe University on Wednesday announced that it will end its investments in major coal, oil, and gas companies over the next five years, becoming the first university in Australia to do so.

The university said it had recently endorsed a plan to phase out its investments in companies which have a strong involvement in fossil fuels, and will also be more transparent about the carbon footprint of companies under its portfolio.

John Dewar, La Trobe University’s vice-chancellor, said in a statement that “we are committed to divesting from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies ranked by the carbon content of their fossil fuel reserves within five years.”

He added: “At La Trobe, we believe economic profitability and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive.”

The university is working with new fund managers to reduce the carbon exposure of its investments, and will publish annual reports of its divestment progress. 

Student and staff activists from the Fossil Free La Trobe campaign, who had led the calls for the university to drop its fossil fuel investments, welcomed the move. The campaign is part of a global divestment movement jointly coordinated by activist groups and Divest-Invest. 

Michaela Carter, a La Trobe student and Fossil Free campaigner, said that the decision “vindicates years of work to get the university to take a responsible attitude towards their investment portfolio”. 

The link between burning fossil fuels and climate change has been proven, and universities which claim to be “future-focused organisations” cannot directly fund this destructive industry, she noted. 

“The moral imperative for tertiary institutions to divest is strong,” said Carter. “As the first university in Australia to fully divest, La Trobe has cemented themselves as a leader in sustainability and this is a model that all universities must follow.” 

Other tertiary institutions in Australia, such as The University of Sydney in New South Wales, the Australian National University in Canberra and Melbourne’s Monash and Swinburne Universities have taken some steps to shift away from fossil fuel investments, but La Trobe is the first to commit to full divestment. 

In Australia, 22 local governments - including the Lismore Council in New South Wales’s Northern Rivers district and the Randwick and Leichhardt Councils in Sydney - have also committed to divesting from fossil fuels. 

As the first university in Australia to fully divest, La Trobe has cemented themselves as a leader in sustainability and this is a model that all universities must follow.

Michaela Carter, La Trobe University student and Fossil Free campaigner

The divestment movement has also gathered steam across the world, with more than 500 organisations worldwide, representing more than US$3.4 trillion in assets, making some form of divestment promises to date. According to the Fossil Free campaign, these organisations are in the process of selling off their shares in the top 200 coal, oil, and gas companies.

Ray Yoshida, national campaign divestment coordinator of Australia, said that they are “thrilled that La Trobe will become the first university in Australia to totally divest from fossil fuels”. 

Other universities in the country “have a very clear choice”, he noted.

They can “keep funding dirty fossil fuels that drive climate change, or…  show true leadership, as La Trobe has done, and prove that there is an alternative”.

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