2018 is off to a stellar start for the divestment movement at UK universities with major victories rolling in thick and fast.
In the same fortnight that New York divested and pledged to sue the fossil fuel industry in the Federal Court, the UK has seen three new divestments and two confirmations that money has been fully moved out of the industry.
They come at a vital time because for every major city like New York or Paris moving huge amounts of money and using their political power to take on Big Oil, we need dozens of successful divestment campaigns on our campuses, and hundreds of grassroots organisers to win arguments in our communities.
Check out some of the recent victories:
University of Huddersfield was the first as Fossil Free Huddersfield University celebrated the confirmation that they held no investments in fossil fuels and had no plans to on 24 January. They became the 60th UK uni to divest! The long fought student-led campaign was supported by local MP Thelma Walker and culminated when the University publicly confirmed that it holds no investments in fossil fuel-linked businesses.
Postgraduate student Megan Bennett from the Fossil Free Huddersfield University campaign commented:
“We are delighted to be able to celebrate Huddersfield University’s Fossil Free stance today. Up to 80% of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to stay within safe climate levels. If the fossil fuel industry follows its business plan, vast areas of our planet will become uninhabitable.”
On February 2nd, the University of Bristol confirmed in a public statement that, following their partial divestment pledge in 2017, they had completed the divestment of companies deriving more than 5% of their income from ‘the most carbon intensive sectors of the fossil fuel industry’.
Robin Boardman, from Fossil Free – University of Bristol, said:
“It’s really exciting to see that our University has followed through its commitments to cut ties and stop supporting some of the worst climate offenders. This large carbon reduction is a great step in the right direction and we look forward to continuing such positive communications with the University to further reduce the remaining 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases still owned by the University’s investments in fossil fuel companies.
“Following New York City, the World Bank and other universities’ examples, we will be working with the university to achieve a completely fossil free portfolio as soon as possible.”
Next came University of Sussex who confirmed that they had moved their money into a fully fossil free fund (Liontrust Sustainable Futures Managed Fund). Fossil Free Sussex celebrated the victory of their four year long campaign on 5 February with a video posted to their Facebook page.
Lara Bloch, a leader of Fossil Free Sussex said:
“After 4 years of students petitioning, awareness raising, protesting and negotiations, Sussex has finally pulled it’s money out of the fossil fuel industry! This is a significant step in Sussex starting to live up to its reputation as a progressive university. It goes to show that collective voices are strong and student campaigning has the power to make real change.”
Fossil Free Sussex are still pushing for the University to make explicit the exclusion of fossil fuels in investment policy.
Later that same day, University of Edinburgh made divestment history becoming the university with the largest endowment to make a full divestment pledge.
They announced their decision to move its entire investment portfolio out of the fossil fuel industry over the next three years. This includes approximately £6.3m currently invested in oil and gas companies after its completed partial divestment announced after a 10-day student occupation in March 2015.
Tara Wight, campaigner at Edinburgh People & Planet and PhD student in Plant Biology said:
“It has taken many years of tireless student campaigning to get to this point, and we are thrilled that Edinburgh University have finally realised the importance of divestment, and decided to match their investment portfolio with the environmentally friendly image they present to the public.
“Fossil fuel investments are never acceptable from universities, and we hope that more across the country will see this move and follow the example of Edinburgh. Solidarity with those working on Fossil Free campaigns around the country!”
Just a day later, SOAS University of London announced that it had completed its divestment – becoming the first London university to do so. Their divestment commitment came in March 2015 after another student-led campaign.
Hannah Short, SOAS Students’ Union Governance & Communications Coordinator, and former SOAS student, who was part of the Fossil Free Campaign, said:
“It was amazing to join this campaign as a new student at SOAS in 2014, succeed in getting SOAS to commit to divest, and finally now to see it actually carried through.”
“It’s important for SOAS to practise what it preaches; challenging behaviour and policies is not just something that happens ‘out there’, but needs to be done right here at home first. This is just one step on a long journey to being the best institution SOAS can be – particularly when it comes to the morality of its whole investment portfolio, amongst other things – but it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s great that SOAS chose to set a progressive example, and that other universities and institutions are following suit.”
As the momentum keeps on building in the UK, we’re aiming for over half of UK universities to have some kind of divestment commitment by the end of 2018.
This will be a significant blow for the fossil fuel industry and a tipping point for the whole movement.
With so many victories, winning students are now looking beyond their universities to the finance sector who are equally culpable to propping up the rogue industry. Their Divest Barclays campaign is organising for institutional boycotts of Barclays and creative direct actions at their branches until the bank ditches al fossil fuel finance.
Show them support here: https://act.peopleandplanet.org/petitions/barclays-bank-boycott-barclays