One of Australia’s largest superannuation funds is under increasing pressure to completely divest from fossil fuels.
UniSuper is the default super fund for those working in Australia’s higher education and research sectors. It has more than 450,000 members and $85 billion in net funds under management.
In a November 2019 document titled “Climate risk and our investments“, UniSuper stated 12% of its exposure was in companies involved in fossil fuels – up from 8% in January 2018.
Climate activist group Market Forces launched a campaign website last month hosting an open letter from UniSuper members to the fund’s board of directors calling on the fund to divest from all companies actively undermining climate change action. It classifies these companies as those expanding the scale of the fossil fuel sector and/or relying on scenarios incompatible with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
The open letter expresses an expectation the action needs to be taken across the entire fund by the end of the current financial year.
Market Forces says UniSuper claims it engages with companies it invests in to improve climate risk management.
“However, UniSuper has failed to vote in favour of a single climate change-related shareholder resolution in Australia.”
As at yesterday afternoon, 10,381 members had co-signed according to the counter on the campaign website – and while that’s a small proportion of the overall membership at this point, this campaign still has legs. As part of related action, UniSuper members protested out the front of Universities Australia Conference 2020 yesterday and Market Forces is taking out a full page print ad in the Financial Review.
UniSuper isn’t the only fund in the group’s crosshairs.
“After years of engagement, fossil fuel companies are still expanding the coal, oil & gas sectors, driving us further towards runaway climate change,” Market Forces tweeted yesterday. “The time for engagement has long passed – super funds must pull our retirement savings out of climate-wrecking companies.”
The Investment Power Of Australian Super Funds
According to statistics from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, superannuation assets totaled $2.9 trillion at the end of the September 2019 quarter. How much of that figure is tied up in fossil fuel investments isn’t clear, but Market Forces says there is widespread investment in fossil fuel infrastructure among Australia’s 50 largest super funds.
“This means you are likely to own a piece of some of the biggest, dirtiest fossil fuels projects on the planet,” it states.
Some funds are listening to the divestment message – and others have shunned fossil fuels from the get-go. One example of the latter is Future Super, which has an emphasis on investing in clean energy projects (disclosure: I’m a member). The fund recently took out full page print ad in The Age to promote fossil fuel-free superannuation.
Australians concerned about how their superannuation is invested can learn more about ethical super in this article from Choice, but note it hasn’t been updated for a few years.