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Universities use position as investors to call time on greenwashing in the finance sector

November 8, 2021

10 leading universities, alongside 16 charitable foundations, are today launching a declaration calling for minimum climate standards from their investment managers.

Universities hold £15 billion in investments. They can, and should, be leading the way in driving a sustainable economy and fairer society. But the finance sector is still falling behind. Universities invest via investment managers, many of whom are not currently taking the urgent action needed to address the climate and ecological emergency we face.

At COP26 today, we’re supporting these investors, who have £7 billion of investments, to claim their place at the top of the investment chain, with a COP26 declaration of climate expectations to end the mismatch between investment manager commitments and practice. University signatories include Jesus College Cambridge, Lancaster University, Newcastle University, St Anne’s College Oxford, University of Bristol, University of Reading, University of Sussex, University of the West of England (UWE) and University of Winchester. The National Union of Students (NUS) is also a signatory.

Research has consistently shown the investment management industry failing to address the climate crisis with appropriate urgency. Last week’s Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative’s (NZAMI) progress report found that, on average, only 35% of assets under management were committed to be managed in line with net zero. Last year it was found that only 21% of the 75 largest managers had a dedicated climate policy, and only 16% had a coal exclusion policy.

COP26 has brought us climate commitments after climate commitment and countless claims of leadership, but this leaves us all wondering how to judge what is good practice and what is greenwash. The ‘COP26 declaration: asset owner climate expectations of asset management’, launched in Glasgow today, lays out eight minimum standards that investment managers should implement to make genuine progress on climate, and commits the 26 signatories to engaging with their managers to drive this.

Professor Julie Sanders, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at Newcastle University, who are one of the founding signatories, said:

‘We know that the social and environmental impact of the University’s investments is of great importance to our students and colleagues. We are committed to reducing the carbon intensity of our investment portfolio and realising opportunities to have a positive contribution to the net zero transition through our investment decisions. Supporting this declaration strengthens the basis on which we continue to engage with our fund managers on the urgent action needed to respond to the climate and ecological crises.’

Colin Baines, Investment Engagement Manager, Friends Provident Foundation, another of the founding signatories and part of the co-ordinating group, said:

‘The variance in standards from asset managers making similar climate commitments and claims is huge. As asset owners, we wish to send a strong market signal and draw a line on greenwashing by establishing a baseline to judge them against. For example, we expect managers that claim to support the Paris climate agreement or net zero targets to vote in favour of aligned shareholder resolutions. It is incredulous that so many managers vote against their stated climate objectives, often more than they vote for them.’  

To read the full declaration and explore the signatories, visit www.cop26declaration.uk.


The initiative has been co-ordinated by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) as part of the Invest for Change campaign, alongside Friends Provident Foundation, and in partnership with the Charities Responsible Investment Network (CRIN) and Responsible Investment Network – Universities(RINU).