March 16, 2015

Oxford Alumni Occupy University Over Fossil Fuel Investments

Oxford, UK – Oxford alumni have occupied a university administration building to demonstrate their anger over today’s announcement that the university has deferred until May its decision on whether to divest from fossil fuels.

Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free Campaign Manager at People & Planet, said: ‘”It is unacceptable that the University of Oxford is refusing to take urgent action and call out the rogue fossil fuel industry that is driving climate change. This is a needless delay by powerful decision makers at the University of Oxford, while the citizens of vulnerable nations like Vanuatu face the consequences of inaction.”

Campaigners had expected the University of Oxford to make a decision today after proposals for divestment were discussed this morning by the University Council, the university’s highest decision-making body, and could have seen the university divesting from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands. Students have been campaigning on the issue for over a year, lobbying the University to pull its investments from fossil fuel companies.

John Clements, Director of Finance at the University of Oxford, 1995-2004,  who has joined the occupation, said:  “We are bitterly disappointed about the university’s failure to come to a decision today. Oxford should be leading the move away from investment in all world-destroying fossil fuel companies to more sustainable forms of energy. In the long term these will prove a far better investment, as many finance sector leaders have already realised.”

Divestment campaigners are calling for UK universities to freeze new investments in fossil fuels and withdraw their existing holdings over a 5 year period in response to concerns over climate change. Research by the International Energy Agency indicates there is at least 3 times more fossil fuel in reserve that could be exploited today than is compatible with keeping global temperatures below 2°C, and over 10 times more fossil fuel resource than could be exploited in the future. Campaigners argue unburnable fossil fuel reserves therefore represent a ‘carbon bubble’ and are an inflated investment.

The university and its colleges endowment is worth around £3.8 billion – 41% of UK universities’ total endowment wealth. Over the last 5 years the university has made steps to divest from arms manufacturing companies on ethical grounds, although only for directly owned shares. Campaigners see this as an acknowledgement of the strong case for divestment from fossil fuels and the first step towards a fully sustainable investment policy that would include divestment from all fossil fuel companies.

The Oxford University Divestment Campaign has gathered support from over 3000 students, academics and alumni. The Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) has endorsed divestment, alongside 29 college common rooms, and over 100 academics[1] who have signed an open letter calling for action from the University.

University of Oxford alumni have been increasingly adding their voice to the student and staff campaign with over 550 pledging to withhold donations to the University of Oxford until it divests[2] and alumni from 15 different colleges, including green energy entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett and journalist George Monbiot, promising to hand back their Oxford University degrees if it does not commit to divestment from fossil fuels.

Dr Jeremy Leggett, an Oxford alumnus and solar energy entrepreneur, stated: “I don’t think universities should be training young people to craft a viable civilisation with one hand and bankroll its sabotage with the other.”

Fossil fuel divestment is the fastest-growing divestment movement in history[3], and is continuing to gain momentum. Around 200 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of over $50 billion, have committed to divest, including the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the British Medical Association and the World Council of Churches.

Over the past 12 months students in the People & Planet network have launched over 60 Fossil Free campaigns across the UK, engaging over 25,000 students. Last summer the University of London SOAS became the first UK university to take action, freezing new investments in the fossil fuel industry. Last October, the University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to divest, committing to remove £18 million, and the University of Bedfordshire recently formalised a ban on fossil fuel investments as university policy, making a total of 21 universities and colleges that have divested internationally. In Oxfordshire, Oxford City Council voted last year to divest from direct investments in fossil fuels, and the Oxford Diocese divested and has called on the Church of England to divest.

Leading actors in the financial sector have acknowledged that fossil fuel investments are increasingly risky, given that known reserves will become ‘unburnable’ in a carbon constrained world. Earlier this year, a report produced by Deutsche Bank suggested that last year’s drop in oil prices was driven by growing consciousness of a carbon budget and political momentum – that “peak carbon rather than peak oil [will become] the primary driver of oil prices.”[4]


John Clements, (Ex-Director of Finance at the University of Oxford): 07941 473661,

Andrew Taylor (Fossil Free Campaigns Manager, People & Planet): 0780 156 8782


People & Planet – Britain’s largest student network campaigning on environmental justice and human rights coordinates the UK university fossil fuel divestment movement.

UK universities invest an estimated £5.2 billion annually in the fossil fuel industry (Knowledge and Power, 2013). See a full list of all the institutions that have divested.

Information on the growth of the divestment movement can be found in Measuring the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement (2014) by Arabella Advisors.

More information on the Oxford University campaign so far can be found at their website.