Letter to UCT calling for fossil fuel divestment

Prof Enrico Uliana (Director of Finance, University of Cape Town)

CC:Prof Crain Soudien (Deputy Vice Chancellor: Transformation and Social Responsiveness)

CC:Prof Mark New (Pro-Vice Chancellor: Climate Change)

5 November 2013


Dear Prof Uliana

We write in order to enquire about UCT’s investment policies and practices in relation to those extractive industries that are contributing to climate change.

As you know, there are, at present, few if any global threats more serious than climate change, a problem highly likely to take a particular toll on Southern Africa, one of the world regions most vulnerable to climate change.

It has been reported that the University is in possession of an endowment in excess of R2 billion. It is our view that this substantial financial portfolio should be managed in accordance with the values of the university, which would involve taking into account the broad public interest rather than a narrow focus on financial returns.

What’s more, the composition of the endowment should demonstrate that UCT takes the conclusions of its own researchers seriously. It would make no sense for UCT to simultaneously celebrate the accomplishments of its climate change researchers, as it does – while pursuing investment policies that effectively deny the implications of their work.

In the US, six universities and colleges have now committed themselves to fossil fuel divestment. It is the beginning of a moral movement no less important than the struggle against apartheid, one that we have no doubt will grow. The only question is, who will be leaders and who will be followers or deniers.

As people who are proud to be associated with the university, we would be very happy to see it taking the lead on these issues, a move which could have symbolic power well beyond the direct financial effects.

We believe that it is vital for UCT’s status as a world-leading university that it:

  1. commits itself to fully divesting from and avoids investing in fossil fuel producers and distributors;
  2. takes into account the carbon emissions of all companies that it considers investing in and prioritises those companies showing a serious commitment to reducing or eliminating emissions;
  3. uses its shareholding in companies to advance climate-friendly practices and ethical business practices; and
  4. actively invests in emerging renewable energy producers.

We hope to begin an engagement with the university around these issues, and would be very grateful if you would provide us with:

  1. the University of Cape Town’s current investment policy (and in particular the policy with respect to investing in fossil fuel producers and with respect to the business practices of companies it invests in); and
  2. an up-to-date report on the University of Cape Town’s investment portfolio setting out all holdings in South African and foreign corporations, including through investment instruments and managed funds.

We thank you for your attention and eagerly await your response.

Best regards,

Eduard Grebe and David Le Page, on behalf of the signatories.


Dr Eduard Grebe (postdoctoral research fellow, UCT)

David Le Page (journalist, UCT alumnus)

Gina Ziervogel (Senior Lecturer, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science)

Dr Claire Kelly (Lecturer, Centre for Open Learning)

Ashleigh Arton (Chairperson, Green Campus Initiative)

Justine McCarthy (Honours student, Environmental and Geographical Sciences)

Jesse Burton (PhD candidate and programmer co-ordinator, UCT)

Jane Notten (UCT alumnus)

Robert Zipplies (UCT alumnus)

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