Trinity’s climate initiative: a cool move or just hot air?

The college is ditching its shares in fossil fuel companies – admirable but largely symbolic

Trinity College holds just €6 million in shares linked to fossil fuel industries, and divesting them will hardly put the college at the “forefront of sustainability”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Trinity College holds just €6 million in shares linked to fossil fuel industries, and divesting them will hardly put the college at the “forefront of sustainability”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Trinity College has pledged to purge its endowments of direct investments in fossil fuels, embracing the battle against climate change.

The move is largely symbolic, however, as the university holds just €6 million in shares linked to fossil fuel industries, and rerouting a few miniscule investments hardly justifies provost Patrick Prendergast’s boast that “it puts the university at the forefront of sustainability”.

As for Trinity being the first Irish university to sign up to the campaign, this was largely by default as the rest of the cash-strapped bunch didn’t have any investments worth talking about.

University College Dublin and Maynooth looked into the issue but found they had nothing to divest themselves of.

Real leadership requires something more than joining a campaign that’s been running across US and UK university campuses since 2011.

Campaigners also argue that divestment should only be viewed as part of an overall climate strategy; which begs the question: what is Trinity doing about cutting existing emissions or transitioning to a carbon-free campus? Has it even formulated a plan to mainstream climate elements into syllabuses?

Perhaps this is unfair on the college and the students, whose grassroots movement forced the issue, but the State needs more radicalism in this area, not least because the Government has proved itself incapable of taking the lead role.

Emissions are rising in nearly every sector of the economy, putting Ireland on course to be one of only two EU states to miss their 2020 climate targets.

Government Ministers, meanwhile, have spent most of their time in Brussels campaigning behind the scenes to protect agriculture from tough climate measures while making vacuous statements about transforming the country into a climate-smart agricultural hub.

Dublin Bus was recently refused funding to even trial cleaner vehicles while Paris, Madrid and Athens and their state-owned bus companies have signed up to phase out all diesel-powered vehicles by 2025.

Despite selling itself abroad as wild and green, Ireland is fast becoming Europe’s premier climate refusenik.

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