UCT divestment declaration

Fossil Free UCT calls on the University of Cape Town to adopt the following resolution. 

[If you are part of the UCT community, you can sign the petition here.]

Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C rise would be unsafe, and many[1] believe that target should no more than 1.5°C degrees. Humanity has raised the global temperature by 0.8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. More than a third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 per cent more acidic, and the climate dice are loaded for both increasing floods and droughts.

This damage to a human-friendly climate threatens the most fundamental human right – the right to life – and the environment and economies that support human life.

Scientists estimate that humanity can add roughly 565 more gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have an 80% hope of keeping average global warming below two degrees.[2] Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already three-quarters of the way to the 2°C degree target.

The proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of fossil-fuel companies, corporate and state-owned, which they currently plan to extract, equal about 2,795 gigatonnes of CO2, or five times the amount we can release without passing two degrees of warming.

Given this mounting crisis, there have been numerous authoritative calls[3] for a global target of phasing out all fossil fuel use, or achieving carbon neutrality (net zero emissions), by 2050.

Africa is a continent particularly vulnerable to climate change and it would be short-sighted to contribute to our own destruction – ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change[4] – in the name of short-term economic development.

The principle of intergenerational equity is written into the South African constitution, but contributing further to climate change would inevitably compromise the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations.

The fossil fuel industry threatens human health (through climate change, air and water pollution), threatens democracy (through funding, disclosed and undisclosed, of political parties and politicians)[5] and threatens science (by funding climate science denial campaigns and using non-disclosure agreements to block research into the health impacts of fossil fuel extraction).

Every societal institution that is aware of the climate change threat has a profound responsibility to take every possible action to avert it, especially those which through past and present emissions hold some responsibility for contributing to it.

It makes no sense to preserve the short- and medium-term value of current investments while contributing to long-term economic destruction.

Divestment is wise (avoiding risk of stranded assets), ethical, feasible (many other institutions are doing it), effective and urgent.[6] UCT’s very own chancellor, Graça Machel, told the UN in September 2014, “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. The scale is much more than we have achieved.”

UCT has already made strong commitments to sustainability,[7] and honouring them demands consistent, decisive action to stop dangerous climate change.

UCT aims to be a centre of excellence in climate change research, and risks undermining its academic integrity if it invests in companies and practices at odds with the conclusions of its researchers.


1. Immediately stop, and instruct asset managers to stop, any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and urge the trustees of the UCT Foundation to follow suit.

2. Ensure that none of its directly held or commingled assets include holdings in fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years, as determined by the Carbon Tracker Top 200 list (pdf link).

3. Release quarterly updates, available to the public, detailing progress made towards full divestment.

4. Investigate and report back on steps towards a general policy of socially responsible investment, in sustainable energy in particular, that will include urging all companies in which it is invested to publicly map their own paths towards being carbon neutral by 2050.

5. Commit to creating a roadmap to carbon neutrality in its own operations.

 [If you are part of the UCT community, you can sign the petition here.]


[1] The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and others.

[2] ‘Research by the Potsdam Institute calculates that to reduce the chance of exceeding 2°C warming to 20%, the global carbon budget for 2000–2050 is 886 GtCO2… this leaves a budget of 565 GtCO2 for the remaining 40 years to 2050.’ From Carbon Tracker 2011 ‘Unburnable Carbon – Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?’ carbontracker.org.

[3] Including the Climate Action Network, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, the Elders, UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres.

[4] K Anderson and A Bows (2011) ‘Beyond “dangerous climate change”: emissions scenarios for a new world’ 10.1098/rsta.2010.0290, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 13 January 2011 vol. 369 no. 1934 20–44.

[5] See, for example, Amy Goodman (2014) ‘Fossil fuel money drowning democracyAlbuquerque Evening Journal 5 April; Oil Change International and Sierra Club (2014) ‘Polluting Our Democracy and Our Environment: Dirty Fuels Money in Politics’.

[6] Effectiveness is demonstrated in good part by the opposition to divestment by the Australian coal mining industry. This point paraphrases US divestment expert Bob Massie.

[7] These include the  ISCN-GULF Sustainable Campus Charter and the Tailloires Declaration.

5 thoughts on “UCT divestment declaration”

  1. Perhaps need a line indicating that divestment/reinvestment is a proven strategy, and in this instance supported by Tutu, etc…

  2. From James: “The declaration is excellent thanks – perhaps we could end with a statement like the following (with acknowledgment to Bob Massie) and insert motivating statements [ ] in our declaration:
    Fossil Free UCT believes that fossil free divestment is wise [risk of stranded FF assets], ethical [un erthical exploitation of FF companies vs. sustainable planet for future generations], feasible [international precedents], effective [eg. Apartheid divestment] and urgent [CC is happening faster than predicted]”

  3. Sandra Rippon

    Just a point of correctness – the Reference 6 should read ‘ISCN-GULF International Charter’ or preferably ‘ISCN-GULF Sustainable Campus Charter’

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