Concerned researchers from across the country want pension fund ABP to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. According to the campaign group Scientists4Future, well over half of Dutch institutions of higher education agree with this demand.
Researchers have been hard at work seeking diverse methods for generating sustainable energy to fight the climate emergency. At the same time, they see that their own pension fund ABP still has large investments in fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas: an estimated 17 billion euros of the total assets of 500 billion.
In March, the self-declared ‘coalition of concerned scientists’ Scientists4Future, therefore, along with all the Dutch Young Academies, sent a letter to the Boards of 45 universities and universities of applied sciences. The same letter also went to 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 their press release. That includes 11 universities, 14 universities of applied sciences and one umbrella organisation. Who exactly is involved they prefer to leave up in the air. TU/e did not co-sign the letter, but says in a response: “We hold a positive view of Scientists4Future’s call, and we will take part in the conversation based on that principle. We have already expressed our critical view of the APB’s investment portfolio before, through the VSNU in 2018, and we have reiterated that view recently.” TU/e professors Kees Storm and Paul van der Schoot are among the signatories who signed the letter in their personal capacities.
“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 already more involved than others, and we also understand that it might not be possible to issue a formal statement immediately.”
But that it’s a growing concern is very clear. Maastricht University, Utrecht University and Erasmus University Rotterdam, among others, have already called on ABP to make its investments more sustainable. And hundreds of professors and lecturers at Delft University of Technology recently signed a petition carrying the same message.
It’s an issue in other professional associations as well, Bijl points out. “Take a look at doctors who objected to investments made by their pension fund 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 abundantly clear to us exactly what should not happen. That makes it particularly painful when your own pension dues that you pay each month are used to stimulate these kinds of products.”
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 is striving to achieve a carbon neutral investment portfolio by 2050. This kind of transition can’t be arranged overnight, a spokesperson said last March.