How about you, professors?
As a student it might seem counterintuitive that our professors’ pension funds have been on my mind for the past few months. That’s for a few reasons: (1) I’m young (2) I’m not a professor (3) pension funds are boring.
To me, they’re not boring at all. Instead they are huge entities with serious financial investments. That means that they have the power to influence the trajectory of our climate with their investments in (or divestment from!) fossil fuels. ABP, the required pension provider for all civil servants and university employees in the Netherlands, is the fifth largest pension in the entire world. That’s some serious power.
Over the past few months, I worked alongside BothEnds and Urgewald to conduct an analysis on ABP’s investments in fossil fuels. We initiated this study because ABP outlined in it’s Vision 2020 that they wanted to become a sustainable pension fund. We wanted to see how well they had done so far.
The answer: not great. Instead of taking measures to divest from fossil fuels, they actually increased their investments in coal, oil, and gas. In 2015 they had 8.4 billion. They raised it to 10.4 billion by the end of 2016. Even considering an increase in share price, this indicates that they were buying up shares in these companies. The scary thing is that these companies aren’t transitioning. Instead, they’re planning 239,000 MW of new coal fired capacity.
But this is not all about numbers or the future. Over the past few months, I’ve been talking with people on the ground across the world about how they are impacted by the fossil fuel companies that ABP is invested in. For instance, ABP is invested in three companies that are spearheading the construction of the Batang Power Plant, which will be the biggest coal fired power plant in Indonesia. The construction is stripping farmers of their land and livelihood. When the farmers show opposition, they have been intimidated by thugs and thrown into jail. ABP just increased their investment in these companies.
ABP is also invested in the “blood coal” from Colombia. For instance, the mining company Glencore has stayed blind to the paramilitaries in their mining area so that they could reap the benefits of displaced or murdered communities. Even those communities who are still there have seen significant increase in air and water pollution because of the coal mine, resulting in all types of diseases.
There is mounting pressure— even coming from our own university. Back in December, the CvB called on the pension fund to transition investments towards a Paris proof future. They weren’t the only ones. Similar calls have come from the cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht over the past year. This is incredibly important.
ABP reacted to our recent report by saying that they are taking the path of “engagement” with these companies instead of divesting. Sorry, but I have to call BS on this. We also analyzed their sustainability report that came out this month, and of the over 200 fossil fuel companies they’re invested in, they only engaged with 10 of them. Further, they often didn’t even engage with those 10 on issues of the environment.
Plus, at the latest Shell stakeholder meeting last week, the group FollowThis put forward a Resolution for Shell to transition towards a sustainable company. You would expect a pension fund that is committed to engagement would back this resolution. Guess what ABP did? They rejected it.
Any professors that are reading this, I hope this gets you fired up. I know I’m fired up for you. I give the UU a lot of credit for sending out a letter to ABP, but we have to continue to put the pressure on ABP. I know that when I have a pension, I want it to use its power for good instead of investing in human rights abuses and a trajectory beyond a 2 degree world. How about you, professors?