This morning, a group of students dropped an 8-meter banner reading: “Your Uni is funding climate change. VC Stuart McCutcheon divest now” from the University of Auckland General Library. The banner is protesting the continued refusal by University Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon to call on the University Foundation to divest from coal, oil and gas companies.
“Climate change is an emergency for humanity and we’re committed to pressuring Stuart McCutcheon and the university to do the right thing.” said Ben Martelli, Fossil Free University of Auckland spokesperson.
The banner was tied to 4 activists, two standing at the bottom of the library, engaging with passing students, and two students upstairs in the library. The students sat quietly studying while attached to the banner.
The protest marks a year since Auckland Council voted to divest from fossil fuels. In contrast, the University Foundation currently has their endowment fund invested in coal, oil and gas companies.
The group have been campaigning on this issue for over three years. In 2017 the group staged an occupation of the Vice-Chancellors wing of the Universities Clocktower building, and were removed by police after 12 hours. Similarly, last year two hundred and forty University of Auckland staff signed an open letter urging the University Foundation to divest from coal, oil and gas.
“We are committed to continued pressure on the Vice Chancellor for as long as this university is invested in coal, oil and gas” said Martelli.
“At a time when the effects of climate change are now clearly being felt, it’s absurd that the University of Auckland remains in the dark ages, invested in fossil fuels.”
The banner was cut down by the University of Auckland security manager after 1.5 hours.
Today also serves as a reminder of growing concern from students, regarding University conduct. Little over a week ago, roughly 1000 students rallied to protest the closure of five libraries, the move seen by many as an attack on the arts and humanities.
“We’re stoked with this morning’s action. Even though the banner has been removed, we engaged with our student body, and let VC Stuart McCutcheon know that we’re not going to stop taking action until he listens to the voices of his students, and calls on the university of Auckland Foundation to divest from fossil fuels.”
This action comes in the same week that American environmentalist, author and journalist, and co-founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben was in New Zealand for his Global Fossil Free Acceleration Tour. The Fossil Free UoA group operates under the umbrella of 350 Aotearoa. Together the groups are part of a global movement that has led to institutions representing over $5 trillion in assets divesting from fossil fuels. Notably in New Zealand, those institutions include the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington, and Auckland Council.
Mr McKibben met personally with members of the group earlier in the week offering his support of their efforts.