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Words, Aoife Nicklason

On 15th March, 2016, after three years of campaigning through formal pathways with The University of Melbourne, student group Fossil Free Melbourne University (FFMU) gave their University one month to make a public commitment to divesting from the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies. If the University did not meet this deadline, 73 Unimelb students have pledged “My university must choose our future over the fossil fuel industry. I pledge to take bold action if my university does not commit to divest by 15th April 2016.”

The divestment movement, a movement that implores institutions to get rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous, has been a catalyst for social change for decades. The most notable and successful campaigns include those targeting industries that, respectively, profited from violence in Darfur, tobacco advertising and South African Apartheid. The call for divestment from fossil fuels gained traction in 2007 in the founding of 350.org, a grassroots climate change movement that posed divestment as a solution to an impending climate crisis. In 2015, further urgency was added to discussion surrounding climate change when the UN released their 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. For almost all of these goals to be realised – especially those regarding affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water and life on land – more than 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.

The UN body in charge of global climate change negotiations publicly gave support to the Fossil Free divestment campaign. “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change.

For students at The University of Melbourne, the journey towards divestment is ongoing. After three years of campaigning, a 1,600 strong student referendum with 97% of respondents saying ‘yes’ to divestment, just under 4,000 petition signatures in support, numerous meetings and rallies and a forum regarding sustainability in which the most commonly asked question was regarding divestment, the University still has not committed to divest from fossil fuels. FFMU, along with groups at six other Australian universities, are frustrated at having to play by their University’s timelines when it comes to an issue as time sensitive as climate change. They have been left with little choice but to create their own timeline for divestment. The name of this new action is called ‘Flood the Campus’.

“Flood the Campus will see many Australian universities join together in coordinated action to amplify our pressure on universities and secure a commitment to divestment … We are telling our University that they are now working within our timeline. As a community, if we do not see a timely commitment to divestment we will take bold action until we do,” says FFMU spokesperson, Anastasia Gramatakos.

In the coming weeks, climate activists at The University of Melbourne – as well as at Monash, Australian National University, The University of Queensland, Sydney University, University of New South Wales and Queensland University of Technology – will be entering a phase of escalation in their activism. Their aims are to continue exposing the role that the fossil fuel industry is playing in blocking action on climate change while supporting and inspiring people to participate in nonviolent direct action and community organising. They aim to do so while working respectfully with traditional owners and other organisations.

To follow the coming weeks of bold action from FFMU, like their Facebook page ‘Fossil Free MU’ or follow them on Twitter @FossilFreeMU.

featured image: Kamyar Adl / FlickrCC