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Door: Carbon footprint management, 9 October 2014


First university in Europe divests from fossil fuels

The University of Glasgow is the first university in Europe to withdraw its funds from fossil fuel investments. After a year of student campaigning, the University Court voted today to divest its £128 million endowment and join the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement. The University of Glasgow had assets of at least £19 million invested in fossil fuel companies.

The divestment campaign led by Glasgow University Climate Action Society involved over 1,300 Glasgow students and academics who demanded that the university quit funding an industry that undermines the institutions’ values and threatens students’ future. David Newall, Secretary of the University of Glasgow Court, says: “The University recognises the devastating impact that climate change may have on our planet, and the need for the world to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Over the coming years we will steadily reduce our investment in the fossil fuel extraction industry, while also taking steps to reduce our carbon consumption.”

Fossil fuel divestment movement

Since the beginning of the year, the global fossil fuel divestment movement has doubled in size, as more and more universities, cities, religious, medical and other institutions decide to stop funding an industry that has five times more carbon in its reserves than can be burned to stay below two degrees global warming. What started with campaigns at a few US campuses in 2011, has led institutions with a combined asset size of more than $50 billion pledge to ditch their holdings in fossil fuel companies. Among these institutions are the heirs to the Rockefeller family, which made its fortune from oil, the World Council of Churches representing over half a billion Christians, the British Medical Association and Stanford University.

Glasgow students

Glasgow students started their campaign just over a year ago with freedom of information requests, and quickly moved on to banner drops, fake oil spills, flash mobs and rallies. In June, the Investment Advisement Committee that the University Court set up in response recommended full divestment from fossil fuels and re-investments in green industries where possible. In the week leading up to the decision, the University received hundreds of messages from students and the public urging them to divest, including award-winning journalist and bestselling author Naomi Klein and the leader of the Green Party in England and Wales Natalie Bennett.

Sophie Baumert of Glasgow University Climate Action Society says, “We are delighted that the University of Glasgow has decided to take a committed stance against climate change and cut its financial ties with the fossil fuel industry. This is huge step for the Fossil Free campaign in the UK and we hope that our university will serve as a role model for other universities.”

More campaigns are underway

Similar campaigns are underway at universities in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Norway. In the US, thirteen universities and colleges have already committed to divest from fossil fuels. In the UK, over 50 Fossil Free university campaigns involving more than 15,000 students have been launched since October 2013. Divestment decisions are imminent from the University of Edinburgh and SOAS, University of London. SOAS already put a temporary freeze to fossil fuel investments in late July while exploring the possibilities for full divestment. UK universities invest an estimated £5.2 billion in the fossil fuel industry annually, the equivalent of £2,083 per student.

Divestment has firm foothold

“Divestment now has a firm foothold in the UK. Student and academic pressure to get out of fossil fuels is building across the sector. It’s time to stop profiting from wrecking the climate, whether you’re an institution with lots of money like Oxford or Edinburgh, or a world leader in climate research such as the University of East Anglia. Glasgow has helped make the moral case crystal clear and we expect more universities to very soon put their money where their research is,” says Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free UK campaign manager at student campaigning organisation People & Planet.

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