By Victoria Pavy
The case for divestment by the University of Western Australia from the Climate Underground 200 is outstanding, as understood by student activist group Fossil Free UWA (FFUWA). Amidst their studies, the students of Fossil Free UWA have been working on a divestment campaign which recently won them the Sustainable Universities Network’s 2022 “Award for Best Climate Action.”
FFUWA released The Case For Divestment on their website in August after petitioning the University and meeting executive staff. It contains three major recommendations:
1.Publicly and fully divest from the Carbon Underground 200 by 30th of June 2026
2. Develop a Divestment Roadmap within a Sustainability Strategy
3. Publicly take active leadership through making climate-positive investments
This call for divestment is something the majority of students have agreed on; The student referendum held during the wider 2023 Student Guild elections (19th – 23rd September 2022) on the question: “Should the University of Western Australia (UWA) take action on the climate crisis by divesting from fossil fuels (i.e. exclude fossil fuel companies from its investment portfolio)?,” resulted in an 83 per cent YES vote.
On October 4th this year, the group championed a Collegial Conversation between staff and students on the topic of divestment at UWA, and saw a significant majority of attending staff and students in support of Fossil Free UWA’s recommendations and for divestment aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees warming pathway.
Meanwhile, the primary argument against divestment by the University (presented by a member of UWA’s investment committee) was the opportunity for investor activism, but evidence of the success of this approach has not been provided by UWA or by its investment fund, Mercer.
In a recent Instagram post, Fossil Free UWA expressed their disappointment and frustration in the University administration following the Collegial Conversation, claiming that students felt the arguments against divestment were “condescending, lacking substance, and avoidant of the main issues at hand.” Their summary of the discussion concludes: “We call upon UWA to prove us wrong, and to reach out to take strong action towards divestment.”
Students are calling for fossil fuel divestment as the first step to real climate action at UWA, but the question remains: what will it take for the University to listen to the voices of its students?