Sydney University halts coal investment

Sydney University

Sydney University has halted new investments in Whitehaven Coal. Creative Commons: 2007

The University of Sydney has become the first institution of its type in Australia to halt new investments in coal mining, fuelling calls for it to go further and divest itself of its $900,000 holding in Whitehaven coal.

The university said it had halted investments in Whitehaven, the miner developing the country’s largest open-cut coal mine, the controversial Maules Creek project.

But the institution said the ban on investments would extend beyond Whitehaven.

It said it is yet to decide what to do with existing coal investment in its $1 billion portfolio. Divesting its holding in Whitehaven is on of “various options” being considered.

Whitehaven coal has begun mining at its Maules Creek site despite months of protests and concerns it could be disturbing the area’s indigenous cultural heritage.

Last week, Greenpeace targeted the University, calling on members to send emails to its vice-chancellor Michael Spence demanding the institution ditch Whitehaven shares.

Along with the National Tertiary Education Union, and the indigenous community, Greenpeace accused it of violating its own investment guidelines.

Some 16,500 emails were sent to the university.

Greenpeace spokesman Nikola Casule said:

A university like Sydney University promotes itself as green and ethical. They generally promote a green image so for them to live up to that… we’re calling on the vice chancellor, Michael Spence, to sell all shares in this coal company.

Universities from across the world have come under increasing pressure this year to consider altering their investment patterns.

In the US, prestigious Stanford University became the largest institution to announce divestment of coal from its $18.7 billion endowment.

In the UK meanwhile, London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) temporarily froze its investment in fossil fuel companies in July, pledging to consider investment, while the University of Glasgow said it would decide on full divestment in February 2015.

Earlier this year, Monash University was accused of a ‘fortress attitude’ over its investments in fossil fuels, within its $400 million portfolio.

Sydney University came the first in Australia to announce a move to halt its coal investment.

Analysts say the move could be influential and send ripples through the funds industry.

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