Ending all investments in fossil fuels

[2017-03-13] Umeå University, the fourth largest institution of higher education in Sweden, has decided to end all investments in companies that produce, process or distribute coal, oil or gas, the so-called fossil fuels.

AT THE END OF December, the University Budget Committee decided that all investments by the University’s foundations shall be fossil-free. Per Ragnarsson, deputy university director, budget director and general rapporteur for the Budget Committee, was present when the decision was made.
“It’s a wise decision and shows what Umeå University stands for. Our credibility is important,” says Per Ragnarsson.

He asserts that it is a step in the right direction for Umeå University and that it is in line with the focus on the Arctic theme year.

SINCE 2011, THERE has been a global campaign for a fossil-free environment, for divestment. The ‘Fossil-Free’ campaign started in the United States and has since spread around the world. In Sweden ‘Fossil-Free’ prevails from Malmö in the south to Luleå in the north. The campaign calls on institutions to divest from fossil energy and is directed at large organisations such as municipalities and universities that may have large holdings.

Image of Niklas Edeborg
Niklas Edeborg, in charge of the campaign ‘Fossil Free Umeå University’, at the booth on Whole Earth Day. 
Photo: Fossil Free Sweden.

At Umeå University there are also student activists, although not to the same extent as in Lund and Stockholm. Students there have mounted campaigns with petition drives and demonstrated for divestment on the part of the universities. Things have been quieter at Umeå University. A group of students from ‘Fossil-Free Umeå University’ took part in ‘Whole Earth Day’ with a booth, and close to a hundred students have today signed the petition for a fossil-free university.

Christian Tengblad, who works as coordinator of the ‘Fossil-Free Sweden’ organisation, believes that Umeå University divestment is part of a larger change:
“The situation is urgent and we have to reconfigure the economy. It’s fossil-dependent now,” he says.

CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF Technology, Stockholm University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have already committed to being fossil-free institutions of higher education. Lund University has done away with parts of its holdings in companies that deal with fossil energy. Municipalities such as Örebro, Uppsala, Strömstad, Malmö, Stockholm and Borås and organisations such as the Church of Sweden and Region Östergötland have also implemented the change.

The initiative to make Umeå University a fossil-free university was introduced by Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson in early December last year, and it was approved by the Budget Committee at the end of the month. Rarely has a decision been made so quickly. By the turn of the year, Umeå University was fossil-free, except for a small part managed by SEB, where it is not yet entirely clear that the change has been implemented. Per Ragnarsson explains the rapid progress by the fact that Umeå University had very little fossil fuel investments. Only 0.23% of the foundation’s investments were placed in companies producing fossil fuels. These were all in the same fund, namely ‘Öhman Ethical Emerging Market’. That fund has now been discontinued, and instead the investments have been placed in fossil-free funds: ‘Öhman Global Sustainable’ and ‘Öhman Sweden Sustainable’.

THE FACT THAT the University deals with funds, shares and interest-bearing paper might sound curious. But donations to the University are what make up the foundations. For Umeå University, there are about 36 associated foundations involved, the largest of which is the School of Business and Economics Fund. The foundations’ yields are distributed primarily to research. All in all SEK 200 million are under management, an amount that is small in comparison with larger universities such as Lund and Uppsala. Umeå University’s funds are managed today largely by asset manager ‘E. Öhman J:or Wealth Management AB’, which already has implemented the exchange of the funds. Over and above the University’s assets of about SEK 2.4 billion, foundation funds amount to scarcely a tenth of the University’s total resources.

UMEÅ UNIVERSITY WILL no longer allow investments in fossil fuels. The investment policy the University follows today stipulates that the University shall not invest in weapons, drugs or pornography, but says nothing about the fossil investments. Now efforts are under way to review the policy so that it explicitly states that no investments into fossil fuels may be made, a project that is expected to be complete in June 2017.
“It’s important that we can be responsible for the investments we make, that they are safe and ethically sound,” says Per Ragnarsson.

Read more about the campaign:


Facts: Divesting

‘Divesting from’ is the opposite of ‘investing in’. It is about selling stocks, funds or other investments that are unethical or morally questionable.
Source: Fossil Free Sweden

Text: Ester Roos Engstrand
Top Photo: 350.org

The article was first published in Aktum No. 1 - 2017 aktum.umu.se/aktum-en/

Editor: Anna Lawrence

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