May 25, 2015

Pressure mounts on the University of Edinburgh to divest from coal and tar sands

  • Climate justice and development NGOs condemn university in open letter
  • Students pledge to step up their campaign after 10-day occupation

Edinburgh, UK – International climate justice and development organisations have signed an open letter which condemns the University of Edinburgh for its refusal to divest from fossil fuels [1]. The letter, published in the Guardian on Sunday, has been signed by individuals representing over 40 civil society organisations, including many from the Global South, which was penned in response to an article written by the university’s senior vice principal published in the Guardian last week [2].

The letter states: “Pitting fossil fuel divestment against the world’s poor is a cynical move which ignores the fact that the world’s poorest people are being impacted most severely by the effects of global warming, and will continue to suffer its worst impacts over the coming years.”

It adds: “Professor Jeffery’s statement also makes no mention of the human rights, increasing poverty or ill-health of communities on the front-line of fossil fuel extraction. Will the university continue to invest in fossil fuel companies whose ongoing activities devastate communities such as those in the Niger delta and Alberta, Canada?”

The University of Edinburgh announced on Tuesday 12 May that it would not divest from fossil fuels, sparking a student occupation of a university management building which lasted for more than 10 days. Highlights included a visit from Nobel Peace Laureate and lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Graciela Chichilnisky, and talks from WWF director Lang Banks, Friends of the Earth Scotland director Richard Dixon and MSPs John Finnie and Alison Johnstone. The occupation sparked controversy on Thursday after a security guard hired by the university was filmed assaulting a student as they protested outside the occupation. The footage, filmed by another protester, shows the security guard pushing the student to the ground and choking them.

On Wednesday 20 May, a motion was tabled in the Scottish Parliament condemning the University of Edinburgh’s decision to continue to invest in fossil fuels as ‘a missed opportunity to help safeguard the environment and provide economic security for generations to come’. The motion, tabled by Lothians MSP Alison Johnstone, also offers support to the group of students who occupied the management building.

288 alumni have signed an open letter stating that they will not donate to the university in light of last weeks decision not to divest from fossil fuels.

Daniel Pacey, an Edinburgh University alumni, said: “I have cancelled my monthly contribution to the Edinburgh Fund and emailed the University of Edinburgh to explain what I have done and why I have done it. If they don’t get their act together I may end up posting my degree back to them given the situation.”

Students are pledging to step up their campaign against the university’s investment in fossil fuels in advance of the university’s ‘clarification’ of its position on Wednesday.

Over the weekend, large banners appeared on various locations, including Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle calling on the University to divest, and three ‘days of action’ are planned for the week.

Lili Schwoerer, one of the student campaigners, said: “Climate change is destroying the planet, but our university have their heads in the sand. They are pumping public money into more and more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, including tar sands and fracking, and turning a blind eye to the devastating impact it is having on our planet.”

“We are calling on the university to use its money to make the world a better place, not to use it to fund war and climate change. Other universities have shown that this is the best way for them to influence the fossil fuel industry, and it’s time for Edinburgh to follow suit.”



Kirsty Haigh, student campaigner and NUS Scotland Vice President of Communities, +447950 671772,

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


[1] ‘Why the University of Edinburgh must divest from all fossil fuels now’

[2] ‘Why the University of Edinburgh will not divest from all fossil fuels’

Notes to editor:

  • People & Planet – Britain’s largest student campaigning organisation on world poverty, human rights and the environment – coordinates the UK fossil fuel divestment movement that is rapidly spreading across UK universities. Over 60 university divestment campaigns have been launched since October 2013.

  • People & Planet is campaigning to sever the ties between UK universities and the fossil fuel companies fuelling the climate crisis.

  • UK universities invest an estimated £5.2billion annually in the fossil fuel industry (Knowledge and Power, 2013)

  • More information on the University of Edinburgh campaign so far can be found on their website: