The University of Glasgow has become the first university in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry. After a year of student campaigning the University Court has voted today to begin divesting its entire £129 million endowment from fossil fuels. This is a major victory for the UK and Europe’s rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement.
“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,” Sophie Baumert, Glasgow University Climate Action Society.
The University of Glasgow joins thirteen US universities including Stanford, who have already committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry. As of September 19th 2014, 181 institutions and 656 individuals, representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. These institutions and individuals come from a diverse range of sectors and backgrounds, including universities, faith-based organizations, philanthropies, health-care providers, local governments, and NGOs.
“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.” Andrew Taylor, People & Planet
Glasgow University’s decision to divest comes after a campaign led by Glasgow Climate Action Society involving over 1,300 Glasgow students and staff which started with Freedom of Information requests, and quickly led to banner drops, fake oil spills, flash mobs, and rallies.
June of this year saw the university of Glasgow’s Investment Advisement Committee – a subcommittee of University Court who were instructed to consider the financial implications of divestment and whether it is in line with the university’s values – recommend full divestment of fossil fuel, as well as re-investment in green industries where possible.
‘Among students the argument about whether climate change exists is not really happening – people have read the academic papers and are not in any doubt. We started out as a small group, but the campaign quickly gained traction.’ Callum Shaw, Glasgow Climate Action Society
In the week leading up to the decision the University received hundreds of messages from students and the public urging them to divest including author and social activist Naomi Klein and the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett.
“Congratulations to the successful student lead campaign which will see the University of Glasgow divest 18 million pounds from fossil fuels – the first university in Europe to take this step.
Glasgow University is joining the fast growing global divestment movement providing much needed hope to the prospect of climate action.” Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and No Logo.
The campaign at the University of Glasgow reflects a growing concern among British students about the dangers of climate change and the investment risks associated with the so-called carbon bubble which threatens to strand the £5.2 billion UK universities collectively invest in fossil fuels; an investment in fossil fuels of £2,083 for every student in the UK.
In the past twelve months the People & Planet network have launched over 50 Fossil Free campaigns across the UK involving over 15,000 students. During the summer the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) become the first UK university to take any action; freezing new investments in the fossil fuel industry. SOAS is expected to make a decision on divestment in the next month.
Decisions are also imminent from a hand full of other institutions including the University of Edinburgh, who conducted a university wide student and staff consultation in which respondents overwhelmingly supported divestment. Oxford University and its colleges, with investments of £3.8 billion, have the largest endowment wealth of any UK higher education institution. The university is currently conducting a staff only consultation on divestment, after almost 2,000 Oxford students and academics joined a campaign calling for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
The movement to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives has gained remarkable speed; doubling in size since January 2014. Alongside students a diverse group of philanthropies, religious, health and environmental organisations, from around the globe are driving the movement. In the UK a range of non-academic institutions including the British Medical Association, Oxford City Council and the Quakers have already committed to divest.