‘ABP, please don’t invest our pension savings in oil’

In November, University Rebellion protested at the UU calling for climate measures to sped up. Photo: DUB

It's nothing new that scientists have come to a consensus that more has to be done to address the climate crisis, including driving down the use of energy from fossil fuels. So why would a pension fund for goverment and education employees invest the money from those same researchers in the fossil fuel industry?

Scientists for Future is one of the groups who have been raising the alarm about ABP's investments. Of their total investment of 493 billion euros, 17 billion have been invested in oil, gas, and coal. Accordinf to the fund's website, it is striving to achieve a carbon neutral investment portfolio by 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

That isn’t fast enough for Scientists for Future. Not just because of the climate issues, but also because of the financial risks taken: why would you invest pension savings in a branch of industry that is going to be phased out in the coming years?

The group wants universities to put pressure on ABP to move to sustainable options more quickly. Their call for action has been supported by all the Young Academies at Dutch universities.

There are more campaigns popping up calling for ABP to divest its fossil fuel stocks. An online petition (link in Dutch) sponsored by Fossielvrij NL has already garnered 11,000 signatures. Students and staff at the university, university of applied sciences and art academy in Utrecht have started their own version of this petition. They want ABP to divest itself of fossil fuel sector funding by the end of 2024 at the latest, according to Trajectum (link in Dutch).

Meanwhile, in Delft, more than 100 professors have signed a petition, reports Delta. “Everything we are engaged in at Delft University of Technology is dedicated to contributing to a better world”, state the professors in the petition. They find it disturbing that their pension savings have been invested in activities that are “diametrically opposed to this mission”.

Maastricht University is also sick and tired of waiting. Last month, the executive board called on ABP to break its ties with “sectors that are connected with fossil fuels” as soon as possible, Observant reports.

Ook de Universiteit Maastricht is het wachten zat. Het bestuur riep het ABP vorige maand op om zo snel mogelijk de banden te verbreken met “sectoren die een verbintenis hebben met fossiele brandstoffen”, writes their news platform Observant.

Increasing pressure
Faculty and staff at Wageningen University & Research have adopted a different model for achieving sustainability, according to Resource. They want ABP to stop investing in large Brazilian meat producers as their industrial farming is involved in the deforestation of the Amazon delta.

It is not the first time that ABP has found itself in hot water due to its investment choices. Back in 2014, Erasmus University had already criticised ABP for this reason. In 2016, Utrecht University's Executive Board called on ABP to invest in “future-proof energy” only. Last year, protest movement University Rebellion urged universities to increase pressure on the pension fund. Civil servants have also demanded a “clean pension”.

Not overnight
ABP is working on a response to all these demands, but will share it with the universities and authors of the letters first, a spokesperson announced. “Let me say first of all that we are pleased that people want to get involved in how ABP invests. We like to see this kind of response”.

Several years ago, calls for divestment focused on the tobacco and nuclear arms industries. At the time, ABP first refused to do so, but came round in the end. Is this a similar situation? The spokesperson doesn't think so. “Back then, it was about excluding certain products. Now it’s about the energy transition and how it should proceed”.

The spokesperson stresses that such a change can’t happen overnight. “Many contributors say 'get out of fossil fuel tomorrow', but you’re talking about 80 percent of the energy currently in use all over the world. The Paris Climate Agreement contains specific year dates, it doesn’t say tomorrow. Society as a whole has a long road to travel to get there together. This is the conversation we need to have”.