Majority of institutions call on pension fund ABP to meet climate goals

Oil platform near Scotland. Photo: Pixabay

Researchers have been hard at work seeking methods to generate sustainable energy to fight the climate crisis. At the same time, their mandatory pension fund, ABP, still has large investments in fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas: an estimated 17 billion euros of its 500-billion assets.

In March, the self-declared "coalition of concerned scientists" Scientists4Future, along with all the Dutch Young Academies, sent a letter to the Boards of 45 universities and universities of applied sciences, as well as their umbrella organisations.

Their appeal: help us put pressure on ABP to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry. The campaigners also want an independent committee to check whether ABP’s investment portfolio is in line with climate goals.

Of the institutions approached, 55 percent have already responded positively, the scientists report in a press release. That includes 11 universities, 14 universities of applied sciences and one umbrella organisation. The name of the institutions wasn't disclosed.

“At the same time, I cannot exclude the possibility that the list of positive responses will grow longer”, geographer Peter Bijl, one of the initiators of the campaign and member of the Utrecht Young Academy said. “Some Boards are more involved than others and we also understand that it might not be possible to issue a formal statement immediately.”

But it's clear that there is a growing concern Maastricht University, Utrecht University and Erasmus University Rotterdam, among others, have already called on ABP to make its investments more sustainable. Hundreds of professors and lecturers at Delft University of Technology recently signed a petition carrying the same message.

Bigger mandate
It’s an issue in other professional associations as well, Bijl points out. “Doctors have objected to their pension fund investing in the fast food industry. It’s a trend where people say: 'we’re at the leading edge of scientific knowledge, and so it is more than clear to us exactly what should not happen. That makes it particularly painful that the pension dues we you pay each month are used to stimulate these kind of product.”

So, what’s next? “We are very happy with the backing we’ve received from the institutions”, Bijl said. “Now we are hoping that it will be discussed at a higher level in the professional bodies. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) have a bigger mandate for discussing this with ABP.”

ABP states it is striving to achieve a carbon neutral investment portfolio by 2050, but this kind of transition can’t be arranged overnight, a spokesperson said last March.