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

THE NETHERLANDS/MAASTRICHT. ABP, pension fund for the educational sector, has to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry once and for all: that’s the demand coming from researchers, students and staff all across the country. We can’t do that overnight, ABP says.

Researchers came to a consensus quite a while ago: in order to address the climate emergency, more has to be done to drive down the use of energy from fossil fuel. So why would you invest the pension fund of those same researchers to stimulate the fossil fuel industry?

Risks

Scientists for Future is one of the groups who have been raising the alarm about investments of ABP, pension fund for government and education employees. Of their total investment of 493 billion euros, 17 billion has been invested in the fossil fuels oil, gas and coal. The fund 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 only based on climate issues, but also because of the financial risks taken with the investment return: why would you invest pension savings in a branch of industry that is going to be phased out in 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.

Petitions

And there are more campaigns popping up calling for ABP to divest its fossil fuel stocks. An online petition 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, Trajectum writes.

Meanwhile, in Delft more than 100 faculty have signed a petition, reports Delta. “Everything we are engaged in at Delft University of Technology is dedicated to contributing to a better world”, the professors state in their 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.

Increasing pressure

Faculty and staff at Wageningen University & Research have adopted a different model for achieving sustainability, it appears from reporting in Resource. They want ABP to stop investing in large Brazilian meat producers. This industrial farming is involved in deforestation of the Amazon delta.

It is not the first time ABP investment choices have met with protest. Back in 2014, Erasmus University had expressed its criticism of ABP. In 2016, executive staff of Utrecht University called on ABP only to invest in “future-proof energy”. And 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.”

A number of years ago, calls for divestment focused on the tobacco and nuclear arms industries. At that time, after first refusing, ABP came round in the end. Is this a similar situation?

The spokesperson thinks not. “Then it was about excluding certain products. Now it’s about the energy transition and how this should proceed.”

A change like this can’t happen overnight, she stresses. “Many contributors say: get out of fossil fuel tomorrow; but you’re talking about 80 percent of the energy now 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.”

HOP, Evelien Flink

Translation: Taalcentrum-VU

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