Pressure has mounted on foundations linked to the University of Auckland to pull their money from fossil fuel companies, with 240 university staff signing an open letter backing the shift.

The letter - signed by prominent faculty members including Dame Anne Salmond, Professor Jane Kelsey, Dr Niki Harre and Professor Peter Adams - comes two weeks after 13 students staged a 12-hour sit-in at Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon's wing in the university's historic clock tower.

The student-led Fossil Free UoA campaign targets the University of Auckland Foundation and the School of Medicine Foundation, which hold $120 million, of which 1.5 per cent is estimated to be invested in companies with fossil fuel interests.

The campaign is pushing for the foundations to follow the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington and Auckland Council by severing any ties with coal, oil and gas companies as a show of action on climate change.


A divestment "would indicate that the university is willing to place its institutional weight unequivocally behind efforts aimed at limiting future global warming to well below two degrees, as called for in the 2015 Paris agreement", the letter stated.

"As the critic and conscience of society, institutions such as our university play a critical role in shaping public opinion on issues of global relevance and urgency such as climate change," said Dr Rhys Jones, a senior lecturer at the university's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, who has been leading the staff group.

"Divesting from fossil fuels is a practical and effective step which demonstrates that the university will not condone the continued extraction of fossil fuels when research has shown that 80 per cent of existing reserves must stay in the ground for us to remain below 2C of global warming."

The letter, along with another statement backed by the Auckland University Students' Association and 22 other student organisations on campus, is to be considered at a foundations meeting this Friday.

"After over two years of campaigning, the foundation's willingness to table the open letter and engage with staff and students for the first time in is encouraging," Fossil Free UoA spokesperson Alex Johnston said.

A university spokesman told the Herald today: "The vice-chancellor is aware of the letter and understands that it will be considered by the foundation trustees at their meeting later this week."

In response to the clocktower protest, the university earlier stated it did not invest in any fossil fuels and that the foundation managed its own funds, most of which had a charitable purpose for the benefit of the university.

However, a spokesman added the foundation's investment managers were signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, and that the university had its own "strong commitment" to sustainability and improving its environmental performance.