May 23, 2015

70 Oxford alumni hand back degrees in fossil fuel protest

Oxford, UK On Saturday 23 May, almost 70 Oxford alumni have symbolically handed back their degrees over the University’s failure to fully divest from fossil fuels. This comes after Oxford University Council committed to not invest directly in coal and tar sands last Monday. While alumni campaigners have celebrated this as a step forward, they maintain that the university has not taken sufficient action, and that their degree has no value for them until a full divestment commitment, covering all fossil fuels and both direct and indirect investments, is reached.

Rivka Micklethwaite, student campaigner
, said: “It is very significant for the University to publicly acknowledge the high ‘social and environmental risk’[1] of coal and tar sands, and to therefore rule out direct investment.”

Monday’s decision is the result of a campaign which successfully gathered support from thousands of students, academics and alumni. The Student Union (OUSU) has endorsed divestment, alongside 41 college common rooms representing 12,500 students, and over one hundred academics have signed an open letter calling for action from the university [2]. Over 220 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of over $50 billion, that have committed to divest, including the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the British Medical Association, and the Church of England [3]

For alumni handing hack their degree on Saturday this is a step in the right direction but does not reflect the urgency of the issue of climate change.

Mostyn Brown who handed back a dPhil in Biochemistry, said: “Democracy won’t solve climate change; institutions like Oxford have to lead. If Oxford doesn’t, then who will?”

Martin Evans who handed back his degree in Engineering, said: “My degree was how I learned about climate change, how energy works, how solar panels and wind turbines work, and how I came to work in renewable energy. We’re asking the university to do the simple thing of following what it teaches, but it isn’t practising what it preaches. The university has to keep its promises on transparency as well as divest.”

Amongst those handing back their degrees are three Oxfordshire councillors for the Green Party: David Thomas, Ruthi Brandt, and Sam Hollick. Oxford City Council voted to divest last year, while the campaign for Oxfordshire County Council to divest is ongoing.

The councillors will be joining names such as Jeremy Leggett and George Monbiot in their decision to hand back their degrees.

Jeremy Leggett, green energy entrepreneur and Oxford alumnus, said: “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 Free is a global movement to push universities and other public institutions to divest from the 200 fossil fuel companies that hold the vast majority of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves. The campaign 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 collectively invested in fossil fuels by UK universities; an investment in fossil fuels of £2,083 for every student in the UK.

Miriam Wilson, Fossil Free Campaign Coordinator at People & Planet, said: “Oxford alumni are handing back their degrees today because they don’t want to be associated with a university which is funding climate change through its investments. Whilst we welcome the fact that the university has ruled out direct investments in coal and tar sands, we call on the university to go further, and fully divest from climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

Yesterday students at Edinburgh University ended a 10-day occupation which began after the university refused to divest from fossil fuels. Over the past 18 months, the People & Planet student network have launched over 65 Fossil Free campaigns across the UK and gained the support of the Scottish and UK National Union of Students and over 32,000 individual students. Decisions on fossil fuel divestment are expected over the summer from Manchester University and Warwick University.




Spokespeople available via Rivka Micklethwaite, OUSU Environment and Ethics Secretary,

Miriam Wilson, Fossil Free Campaign Coordinator, People & Planet, +447740168718,

Notes to editor

[1]Oxford University’s statement on Monday’s decision:


[3]For a full list of all the institutions that have divested, see