QSuper and Sunsuper members call on funds to exit coal

Sixty-five Sunsuper and 141 QSuper members have written to their superannuation funds calling on them to stop investing in thermal coal.

Members are urging the funds to reconcile stated commitments to invest responsibly with their investments in high-emitting assets.

QSuper and Sunsuper recently signed a heads of agreement to merge, which would make the united entity one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds.

QSuper member Dr Emma Gilberg sent the letter because of concerns about the effect climate change is having on the health of her family and her patients.

“Climate change is directly impacting the health of my family and patients.

“Last year’s bushfires, for example, caused significant impact on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and mental health of the patients I care for. Of particular concern is the ongoing health effects, especially in children which is unknown at this stage.

“We need Australia’s biggest financial institutions, including QSuper, to move their money out of fossil fuels to limit the health consequences of climate change.”

The members’ letters call on QSuper’s Chief of Member Experience, Jason Murray, and Sunsuper’s Chief Member Officer, Steven Travis, to disclose:

  • a detailed list of companies the funds invest in.
  • emissions reduction strategies for the funds’ respective portfolios.
  • if the funds have conducted portfolio-wide scenario analysis on climate change risks.
  • the precise engagement processes each fund undertakes with investee companies to reduce their carbon exposures.

Sunsuper recognises climate change as a material risk to its investments and measures its investments’ carbon exposure, but it has not publicly released a climate action plan that sets out how it will decarbonise its portfolio.

QSuper, on the other hand, claimed in 2019 the investments markets did not properly understand climate change risks. Last December, it said the fund would look to take steps to identify its financed emissions and actively engage with investee companies.

Michelle Conkas is a QSuper member who lives on a farm near Stanthorpe, Queensland.

“My family and I are living in the middle of the worst drought on record, despite the La Niña summer,” she said.

“We’re seeing first-hand what climate change is doing. Swathes of eucalyptus trees are dead. Our dams are empty. Our town has been trucking in water since January 2020.

“While QSuper’s promotional material promises to help us ‘weather any storm’, it has failed to make public a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and failed to divest from fossil fuels – the biggest driver of climate damage like extreme bushfires, drought and floods.

“I want to make sure QSuper does not use members’ retirement savings to cause the destruction of my future and my children’s future,” Michelle said.

The Australia Conservation Foundation’s Economic Analyst and Campaigner, May House – also a Sunsuper member – said QSuper and Sunsuper were well behind Australia’s largest industry superfunds on managing climate risks.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen some of Australia’s largest superfunds, like HESTA and Unisuper, respond to members concerns and commit to lead the superannuation sector towards net zero by exiting thermal coal investments.

“Yet QSuper and Sunsuper are dragging their heels on climate and acting against the best interests of their members.

“As stewards of Australians’ retirement incomes, QSuper and Sunsuper should address climate risks, divest now from high-emitting sectors, like coal, and introduce climate screening processes.

“It is incumbent upon QSuper’s and Sunsuper’s trustees to actively consider how climate change creates financial risks for members, as Noel Hutley QC and barrister James Mack stated in their 2017 advice on superannuation fund trustee duties and climate change risks.”

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