TCD to offload €6m in fossil fuel company shares

University divesting itself of Exxon and BP shares as part of global ccampaign

Trinity College Dublin has moved to sell as much as €6 million of fossil fuel company shares, including ExxonMobil and BP.

The university's endowment fund had also bought shares in Enbridge and Phillips 66, two companies linked to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project, according to Fossil Free TCD, the 15-month student campaign that precipitated the university's policy.

“Fossil fuel companies have spent vast sums of money funding climate change denial in the face of clear scientific evidence to the contrary and ensuring that the status quo around fossil fuel consumption is maintained,” said the group’s spokeswoman Áine O’Gorman.

Global campaign

Trinity’s decision is part of a global campaign to pull large amounts of money out of companies whose activities enable global warming.

The broader Divest-Invest Initiative, to which the TCD announcement is affiliated, announced in London on Monday to having secured a divestment commitment of over $5 trillion (€4.7 trillion) in oil, coal and gas assets by thousands of individual and institutional investors.

Trinity says it is the first Irish university to have enacted such divestment – it has instructed Irish Life to offload shares – but other third level institutions have taken similar positions.

Last year, Maynooth University examined its investments and found it had no fossil fuels holdings but committed to their future exclusion. Earlier this month, NUI Galway said it would divest €3.4 million.

In an internal review, Dublin City University found funds raised through its educational trust and invested in the sector were "minimal", extending to hundreds of thousands of euro.

However, the university's president, Prof Brian MacCraith, told The Irish Times that "as part of a broader commitment to sustainability across the university we are disinvesting".

University College Cork (UCC) said its ethical investment policy already excludes energy companies involved in extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

University College Dublin has no such investments with its reserves held in cash, a spokeswoman said.

Trinity’s holdings, which include at least 160 relevant companies, come from its endowment fund which dates back over 200 years. The capital is used to generate an annual return to finance “the academic and student support needs of the university”, it said.

Carbon-related stock

Proponents of shedding carbon related stock also point to a strong financial argument. Deirdre Duff of Fossil Free TCD explained that the value of shares in fossil companies includes the value of fuels in reserve. If all of these reserves are used, she said, it would be impossible to meet carbon reduction targets and so the value of such shares may eventually fall.

While many view divestment support as a fillip to the environmental movement, there is still substantial activity in the area, not to mention ongoing consumer reliance on products.

Joseph Curtin, climate expert at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and UCC, noted the election of Donal Trump had bolstered fossil-related stocks and damaged renewable energy.

“I think there is still a whole lot of money out there that is chasing highly profitable and powerful fossil fuel companies,” he said. “We are still a long way away from this [divestment] mainstreaming.”

As of September the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) held equity in the energy sector amounting to about €11 million or 0.1 per cent of its assets under management.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan told the Dáil the fund is currently "considering the investment case for companies that may not be aligned with the long-term transition to a low-carbon economy."

“ISIF’s senior management . . . have committed to reviewing the current Prohibited Securities policy to examine the potential of adding to the list of excluded investment categories.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times