Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels

SHAREHOLDER activist group Market Forces has launched a campaign urging the superannuation fund UniSuper to divest from fossil fuel companies like Woodside Petroleum and Santos.
Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels Market Forces urge UniSuper to divest from fossil fuels

Claims fund has A$10B invested in industry

Mark Tilly

Journalist

 
The fund is the default super fund for university graduates, academics, scientists and staff and has around 450,000 members.
 
Today a group of academics led a protest against UniSuper's continued funding of fossil fuels at the Universities Australia event in Canberra as part of the Market Forces campaign. 
 
"UniSuper is responsible for the retirement savings of Australia's leading scientists, academics and researchers, yet it is directly undermining our work and our future by driving climate change through its continued funding of fossil fuels," ANU Research Fellow Dr Florian Busch said. 
 
UniSuper has disclosed that at least 12% of its exposure is in companies involved in fossil fuels including Woodside, Santos and pipeliner APA Group which Market Forces estimates to equate to around A$10 billion. 
 
The group accused the companies of actively undermining the Paris Agreement.
 
It also said UniSuper had failed to vote in favour of a single climate change-related shareholder resolution in Australia. 
 
"They simply have decided to remain invested in fossil fuels, despite knowing the industry wants to expand when it needs to contract," Market Forces superannuation campaigner Will van de Pol told Energy News.
 
UniSuper declined to comment. 
 
A Woodside spokesperson said Woodside and UniSuper had "a robust engagement on business and sustainability issues" for many years. 
 
The campaign comes as several Australian superfunds have chosen to invest in renewable projects overseas, blaming the federal government's recalcitrance on energy policy for not providing enough projects to invest in at home. 
 
AustraliaSuper recently joined Queensland Investment Corporation in a US$1 billion funding round of a San Francisco-based green finance company, while Construction and Building Unions Superannuation invested in US based renewable energy projects last year. 
 
"At this point, the platforms of scale don't exist in Australia," AustralianSuper head of infrastructure Nik Kemp told Bloomberg Green.
 
"The size of the US market makes for a march larger market and much better long-term growth opportunities." 
 
Van de Pol said there was no lack of investment opportunity in Australian projects, despite renewable investment last year falling 38% as grid constraints and a lack of long-term federal policy continued to spook investors. 
 
He praised BP's recent announcement of a net-zero "ambition" by 2050 but said he had yet to see Australian companies make similar moves. 
 
Santos has an aspirational target of net-zero by 2050 and has urged the federal government to put a price on carbon to incentivise the industry to commercialise costly carbon capture and storage technology. 
 
Chevron's Gorgon CCS project, which started two years behind schedule cost US$2.5 billion. 
 
When asked whether superfunds should divest at a time when energy companies were developing technology to reduce emissions, van de Pol pointed to the vast amount of capex energy companies committed to exploration and production compared to low carbon tech. 
 
 "If they were investing in any sort of magnitude in these technologies compared to how much they are investing in fossil fuels that argument might hold some water," he said. 
 
"It remains to be seen whether these companies will be the ones driving the transition in a way that's consistent to climate commitments, if they are then they could be worthy of investment, but right now they are driving us in the completely wrong direction." 
 
BHP plans to spend US$1.2 billion on conventional petroleum in this financial year alone, while committing just US$400 million over five years to its clean investment program. 
 
Van de Pol did not specifically say what Australian renewable companies or technologies superfunds should chose to invest in instead of fossil fuel companies.  
 
"It's not really our position to encourage investment in specific companies or technology beyond the broad sector," he said. 
 
An open letter to UniSuper from the Market Forces campaign has attracted over 10,000 signatures.