Hot on the heels of Glasgow University, which recently announced that it will be making a decision on halting its fossil fuel investments in October 2014, campaigners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London are celebrating a preliminary victory.
In the decision announced on Tuesday 29th July, SOAS management have agreed to temporarily freeze investments in fossil fuel companies while the possibility of total divestment from the industry is explored, pending a decision by the university’s finance team in November. This action follows a campaign calling on the college to review the university’s fossil fuel investments in line with SOAS’s own ethical investment guidelines that has attracted over 500 signatures from students and staff.
Whereas 13 universities and colleges in the US have moved to divest from fossil fuels, SOAS’s decision makes it the first higher education institution in the UK to directly act on wishes to cut ties with a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. Campaigners at SOAS believe the fossil fuel industry is fundamentally at odds with the core ethos of the university.
Fossil Free SOAS Spokesperson, Julia Christian said of the college’s decision:
“This is fantastic progress towards cleaning up SOAS’ fossil fuel investments – but it is only a first step. We want to see SOAS pull out of fossil fuels completely, and will be pushing for that decision at the next meeting of finance team in November.
“SOAS has a reputation for specialist teaching in African and Asian cultures, as well as running an increasing number of courses that focus on the environment and the problem of climate change. This is fundamentally at odds with investing in climate-polluting industries such as oil, gas and extractives – and now is the time to put a stop to this. We are delighted that the management is taking this issue so seriously.”
This development at SOAS comes just as MPs sitting on the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee have called on the UK government to take a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seriously, and to give the issue of climate change more stringent attention. The select committee has given backing to the IPCC’s findings that deep cuts in emissions are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, noting that it may only be safe to emit around 309 gigatonnes of carbon between now and the end of this century.
Addressing the decision to freeze fossil fuel investments, as well as the issue of climate change, Director of SOAS, Paul Webley said:
“SOAS is proud of its ethical investment policy, and it is right that we regularly review it and look at how it can be extended. The management of SOAS has a duty to ensure that the School’s investments deliver a financial return – but we also have a duty to invest responsibly.
The way human activity is changing our climate is a serious source of concern to staff and students at SOAS. This is increasingly reflected in our academic programmes. We have already made some progress in minimising the environmental impacts of our buildings and facilities. Now is the time to look at how these values may be extended to our financial investments.”
Though the university does not carry out research funded by fossil fuel companies, campaigners in the Fossil Free UK network hope that divestment at SOAS will help put pressure on other institutions, more ‘entrenched’ in the fossil fuel industry, to move in a similar direction.
Since the start of the Fossil Free UK campaign last October, some 46 divestment groups have been founded at universities and colleges across the UK by student network People & Planet. This marks a notable challenge to the influence of fossil fuel companies in higher education – something that has risen with the increase in research funding over the last ten years. Such funding is said to skew the public debate by limiting options for research and career paths for graduates.
This blog was written by Rob Abrams, a student at SOAS, and first appeared on People & Planet’s Grassroots Blog.