Newly-elected student members of the UNSW Council Ike Schwartz and Nicholas Gurieff said they were concerned about the environmental performance of UNSW’s investments and, together with staff, they intended to ensure the university provided a model for social responsibility in all aspects of its operation.
They have asked the UNSW Council to ensure its investments are moved to low carbon indices, that they exclude new thermal coal, tar sands, and limit fossil fuel exposure to 10% below the relevant index benchmark.
“The world is already starting to feel the effects of climate change through droughts, floods and wildfires,” Schwartz said.
“As a medical student I’m acutely aware of the human toll from inaction on this issue, and I’m concerned UNSW isn’t doing everything it can.”
UNSW Mining Engineering Head of School Associate Professor Paul Hagan said the School of Mining Engineering was the largest provider of mining engineers, through its undergraduate, postgraduate and research programs.
“UNSW is committed to moving forward in mining education and is actively engaged in seeking improved ways of delivering our services – both in terms of education and research,” he said.
“A key component of our success in the above areas is working and identifying closely with the mining industry.
“This means strong support from the industry for our programs, student scholarships, and an integrated program of mine site visits throughout the education process. We also have a good cross-section of senior industry executives on our Minerals Industry Advisory Council providing advice and strategic direction and extensive engagement with industry in professional development programs where we regularly deliver training courses for individual companies or industry groupings.”
The UNSW Council was first forced to revise its investment policy in 2016 following sustained pressure from the campus community, however, some students claim this had not translated into any meaningful change.
Students have been campaigning since 2012 to power the campus with renewable energy, and earlier this year UNSW became the first university in the world to sign an agreement to supply 100% of its electricity with solar power.
Gurieff said this was welcomed by the community, however, students and staff wanted the same thinking applied to UNSW’s investments.
“UNSW research shows us the scale of the challenges we face, but also provides real solutions, such as our world-leading solar power technology,” he said.
“We need to ensure the institution itself is also driving positive change by putting its money where its mouth is.”
Polling has shown overwhelming support from the student body, with 78% voting in favour of divestment.
Staff backed up students, signing an open letter expressing their concerns.
Students occupied council chambers in 2016, and blockaded entrances to the chancellery building on campus in 2017 over the issue.