Are you a student thinking about where to go to university? Do you care about the environment, and companies whose activities are responsible for climate change?
There is a sense of momentum among the UK movement urging universities to divest from fossil fuels, and reinvest in low carbon technologies, which has been gaining traction since 2012.
Universities are major investors. Campaigners are trying to use this fact to encourage institutions to withdraw their support for the fossil fuel industry by selling their shares in dirty energy companies — also known as divestment.
It is a tactic based on the moral argument against fossil fuels. Scientists say the vast majority of fossil fuels reserves need to be left in the ground if world leaders are going to prevent the world warming by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
And since 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement that pledged to keep global temperatures “well below” the two degrees limit and “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C” , the moral argument for divestment has only strengthened.
DeSmog UK's map allows you to see which universities walk-the-walk when it comes to climate-friendly investments:
Green shows those universities that have made divestment pledges, red shows those universities that haven't divested. If you click on each university, you'll find more information about the university and the pledge.
Last year, the UK emerged as the world leader in university divestments, with over £80 billion divested. Universities in the UK have made different sorts of pledges, with varying degrees of commitment to divest from fossil fuels. Some have also promised to invest in low carbon technologies.
Chris Saltmarsh, campaigns coordinator for campaign group People & Planet told DeSmog UK:
“With three Russell Groups universities — Durham, Cardiff, Bristol — fully divesting in one week, in the same first three months of 2018, which has also seen Huddersfield, Sussex, Edinburgh and Anglia Ruskin exclude all fossil fuels, it is clear that divestment is now the political mainstream, and radical student organising has thrust it there.”
“The fossil fuel industry's social license to operate is at an historic low. That's thanks to years of tireless grassroots campaigning”, Saltmarsh said.
“Alongside this, the wider climate justice movement must continue to resist extraction on its frontlines and demand bold policies for reinvestment in a just transition to 100% renewables by 2030.”
And it’s not just universities. Fossil fuel divestment is a global movement across various organisations; with financial institutions, the city of New York and the Catholic church all recently pledging record divestments from fossil fuels. Over 850 institutions have so far divested about $6 trillion.
Although it’s not all good news - ‘extreme’ fossil fuel investments have surged since US president Donald Trump’s tenure began, including tar sands, coal and Arctic and ultra-deepwater oil, according to a report from the Rainforest Action Network.
Increasing numbers of universities across the UK and Ireland are making pledges.
The University of Edinburgh — which has the largest endowment fund of any Scottish university — recently committed to divest from fossil fuels, alongside a pledge to reinvest in low carbon energy sources.
Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal of the University of Edinburgh, said: “I’m very proud of the University’s decision. Climate change is one of the world’s biggest challenges. Over the past few years, we have thought hard about how to respond to that challenge. This change in our investment strategy is a vital step on that journey.”
The University of Glasgow has also initiated divestment from fossil fuels, which made up a significant (14 percent) portion of their endowment.
“The University’s gradual disinvestment in the energy sector is only one part of an overall strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and address sustainability issues in an holistic way. Over time, we hope to engage the entire University community in a range of actions which will benefit the environment,” a university spokesperson said.
The University of Glasgow was also the first in the UK - and indeed the whole of Europe - to announce it’s divestment from fossil fuels in 2014, followed by a several others throughout 2015, including the University of Oxford, SOAS, and London School of Economics.
Around two-thirds of the ‘elite’ Russell Group universities have so far divested. These universities are the among the oldest in the UK, and generally have the largest investment funds.
Not all universities have made pledges, however. And some have made pledges that campaigners say will be ineffective.
For instance, students have been dissatisfied with the University of Cambridge’s partial divestment decision in 2016.
“In reality, it’s very weak and their criteria for coal and tar sands is unlikely to exclude the likes of Shell, BP and ExxonMobil. Zero Carbon Cambridge, which is the student group campaigning on it, aren't happy until full divestment is agreed to,” Saltmarsh told DeSmog UK.
Zero Carbon Cambridge teamed up with its Oxford counterpart to drop orange banners and light flares over the 2018 Boat Race to raise awareness of their institutions’ failure to divest. In April, BP's CEO told an industry conference that he hoped Cambridge University did not divest, the Guardian reported.
“We donate and do lots of research at Cambridge so I hope they come to their senses on this”, he said.
The University of Cambridge did not respond to DeSmog UK’s requests for comment on their position on divestment.
The other Russell Group universities that have not divested — all of which are also included on the map — are Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Mottingham, Exeter and York, and Imperial College London.
Some univeristies that have not divested do not have investments in fossil fuels, such as Bangor University. Its sustainable investment policy declares that it currently has not active investements in fossil fuels, but does not rule out making these in the future if they passed the portfolio manger's sustainablity screening process. Without a commitment not to invest in fossil fuels in the future, the university cannot be considered to be divested, People and Planet says.
Update 16/07/2018: line was changed to reflect that all universities are now included on the map, not just Russell Group. Updated 01/07/2019: A line was added on Bangor University. Main image: Joe Brusky on Flickr | CC2.0