UCT gives green light to ditch fossil fuels

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University of Cape Town will immediately divest from internationally exposed fossil fuel investments.(Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
University of Cape Town will immediately divest from internationally exposed fossil fuel investments.(Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
  • The University of Cape Town will divest from fossil fuels, its council has decided.
  • The decision comes after many years of lobbying by environmental associations and pressure from the Fossil Free UCT campaign.
  • The university aims to invest in renewable energy and the green economy.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) will divest from fossil fuels and will instead direct its investments to renewable energy and the green economy.

The UCT Council made the decision at its first meeting of the year, on Saturday 12 March. 

Council chair Babalwa Ngonyama's feedback from the meeting was published on the university's website on Friday.

"Council has in principle agreed to the divestment from fossil fuels. This approach will put back into society, the environment and the global economy more than is being taken out," the statement read.

UCT committed to the "immediate" divestment from internationally exposed fossil fuel investments. It committed to the immediate investment in renewable energy and the green economy.

In making the decision, the Council relied on advice from the University Panel for Responsible Investment (UPRI), which recommended the divestment last year. The UPRI is a panel that sets policy and advises on responsible investment related to the university's endowment fund.

The university also took guidance from the Joint Investment Committee and Foundation Trustees.

READ | OPINION | Are my investments supporting fossil fuel companies?

The decision comes nine years after environmental activists first wrote to the university to divest from fossil fuels. This activism later evolved into environmental associations Fossil Free SA and UCT Green Campus Initiative, which have championed what was dubbed the Fossil Free UCT campaign.

David Le Page, co-founder of Fossil Free SA, said that the campaign was supported by thousands of students over the years, school children and academics who have signed petitions and written to the university.

UPRI chairperson Tom Moultrie highlighted the importance of the work of Fossil Free SA, the UCT Green Campus Initiative, and other parties in lobbying for divestment. "Their role in getting UCT to this point is important and commendable, and were important inputs into the recommendations made by UPRI."

The UPRI is not responsible for investment decisions taken by the UCT Foundation, but it will "monitor and track" the implementation of the university's new commitment. The UPRI will also ensure that information on investments is made available in the public domain, Moultrie added.

Fossil Free SA's Le Page said the group would be monitoring the progress made.

"We believe that divestment from fossil fuels by the leading university in Africa, an institution with a deep commitment to social justice, is a very significant moment for South African society at large," said Le Page. "At this early stage of the divestment movement in South Africa, the impacts of a decision like this are primarily social, not financial."

Le Page said the decision signals to society that the era that fossil fuels can make us collectively wealthy has ended.

"They [fossil fuels] are now making us all poorer by eroding the fundamental ecological infrastructure on which our human economies depend. But in time, divestment will be making it much harder for fossil fuel companies to raise new capital," Le Page added.

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