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Copenhagen academics fired up over fossil fuels

University of Copenhagen employees are playing a big role in a larger movement to get pension funds out of so-called 'dirty energy'

A group of University of Copenhagen (UCPH) employees is behind an attempt to get pension funds to reallocate investment away from fossil fuels into alternative and more environmentally-friendly investments. And they are having some success.

Advocates from the organization Ansvarlig Fremtid (A Responsible Future) is pushing to take pension funds out of tar sands, oil, coal and gas.

They are a part of a larger fossil fuel divestment movement, where institutions and individuals have disinvested from DKK 330 billion so far.

MP Pension would not budge

Organizations such as the UN-backed climate change campaign Go Fossil Free , argue in favour of divestment, not only because of the environmental repercussions, but because of what they say are the economic risks involved in investing in fossil fuels. Both the World Bank and Bank of England warn that these types of investments entail financial risks.

But widespread popularity internationally and becoming the reportedly fastest growing divestment movement in history , advocates in favour of divestment are meeting tough resistance.

In a controversial recent move MP Pension, the organization that provides pensions for approximately 100,000 academics, gymnasium teachers, and psychologists, opted to keep fossil fuel investments, despite a majority vote among members were in favour of divesting. 57% of attendees (761 for and 569 against) voted in favor of weaning off fossil fuels by 2018, but the pension fund would not budge.

UCPH lecturer: They don’t like restrictions

An organization that represents nurses has already agreed to divest from fossil fuels, while architects and civil engineering groups recently voted in favour at their general assemblies to start divesting.

Regardless of this, the board of directors for both the academic and architect funds has not implemented changes thus far, arguing that “engaging with companies was preferable” to divesting and that decisions made at the general assembly are only recommendations.

Thomas Meinert Larsen, UCPH lecturer is an active member of Ansvarlig Fremtid, and he explained to the University Post the logic behind the conflict: “Generally, they [the pension funds, ed.] don’t like to have restrictions on their investment universe. Secondly, they are concerned that not being able to invest in certain types of fossil fuels would compromise the return of investments. We obviously disagree on this, as we believe that fossil fuel stock values are generally overvalued.”

MP Pension: No evidence that divesting works

MP Pension’s chairman Tina Mose explained in an interview with MagisterBladet that MP Pension is looking into setting up alternative investments for people, but that the company is remaining cautious about divesting.

“We agree that the climate question is incredibly important. But the discussion needs to be done on an informed basis. I have, for example, never seen evidence that divestment actually affects companies in a green direction.”

“We are currently investigating the legal and economic basis for setting up a green investment fund for members who want to get away from fossil fuels. The fact that there is additional focus on the problem [of investing in fossil fuels] can be attributed to AnsvarligFremtid’s work.”

Responsible Future will continue to fight

While various groups have voted in favor of divestment – succesful or not – other pension organizations for lawyers, veterinarians and engineers did not pass a resolution to divest.

But AnsvarligFremtid will not be giving up the fight easily. At an internal meeting last Wednesday, they discussed strategy about how they could convince people to vote in favor of a divestment referendum they recently sent out to 23,000 members of the DIP Pension Fund.

“We will continue to advocate for responsible investments and divestments from fossil fuels. We [also] hope to be able to also put forth our proposal at more general assemblies next year,” explains Larsen.

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