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Fossil Free UoA continues to occupy university clock tower

Update 29/05/17 3.20pm: Niamh O’Flynn, Executive Director of 350 Aotearoa, says University security has advised the protestors cannot stay once the University closes, and that the word 'arrest' has been used.

Fossil Free University of Auckland is demanding that Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon actively supports divestment from oil, coal and gas companies.

At 8 AM this morning, 13 members of the student group kicked off their protest in the Vice-Chancellor's wing of the University of Auckland clock tower. The occupying students from faculties including medicine, law and engineering say they are risking arrest in an effort to force the University's leadership to change their policy on fossil fuel investment. Campus security have locked the students in the reception area to prevent more students from joining the protest.

“We’re occupying this space to demand leadership from the university on climate for all our futures. Climate change is an emergency for humanity, and we won’t leave until Stuart McCutcheon takes a stand and supports university divestment from fossil fuels”, said Alex Johnston, Fossil Free University of Auckland spokesperson.

According to Johnston, the university is invested in companies with interests in fossil fuels through its $120 million investment fund, and the investment in these companies make up around 1.5 percent of the total amount the university invests.

A university spokesperson said the university does not hold any investments in fossil fuel companies, explaining that under the Public Finance Act, they can only invest in registered banks.

"We acknowledge that some students have called for the University Foundation to divest from fossil fuels. The foundation manages its own funds, most of which have a charitable purpose for the benefit of the University," the spokesperson said.

"The university has no jurisdiction over the foundation. However, we are aware that the foundation's investment managers are signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment.

"The university has a strong commitment to sustainability and improving its environmental performance. This includes institutional membership of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, through which we are working with other tertiary institutions and organisations across the public and private sectors globally to generate the solutions that will deliver on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals."

But Fossil Free University of Auckland say the University's statement does not respond to their demands, and they plan on continuing to occupy the clock tower.

“By refusing to publicly support divestment, the Vice Chancellor is signalling that he is fine with the University funding climate change, and is disregarding the calls of over 3000 students, staff and alumni, who have signed our petition, and the support of AUSA and 22 other students associations and clubs,” said Johnston.

“We’re demanding that Stuart McCutcheon stand on the right side of history and support divestment for all our futures.”

Fossil Free UoA has been campaigning for the divestment in fossil fuels for two years now. In April this year, more than 100 students from the Auckland University Medical Students association also protested against the fossil fuel investments.

Institutions that have already chosen to divest include the Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago and the Auckland Council.

Reuben McLaren, 95bFM News