Student disappointment as University Council defers decision over fossil fuel divestment

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Oxford University Council deferred a decision earlier today over whether to divest £2 billion worth of endowment from fossil fuel companies.

This move has been heavily criticized by several student groups, particularly the Oxford University Fossil Free Divestment Campaign, which is supported by OUSU.

In a statement, OUSU’s Environmental and Ethics Fossil Free Campaign denounced the deferral as representing “serious complacency towards the urgent need for action on climate change”, saying that it was a “disappointing” step in a campaign which had already “been continuously hampered by the slow burn of the University’s bureaucratic processes”.

A group of alumni have also expressed their anger over the deferral by occupying an administrative building next to the Sheldonian Theatre.

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Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird, founder of the Oxford Climate Society stated: “We are very disappointed in the Council’s deferral of the decision, as we feel this demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding as to the severity and immediacy of the issue.”

“Clearly, divestment is supported by a large part of the University’s community; by choosing to defer the decision, the University is deferring not only its response to divestment but also its response to and support for the wishes of a major part of its students and academics”.

Oxford’s current endowment of £2 billion is the largest of any British university.

The proposal made by the Divestment Campaign includes four primary demands: (1) for the University to evaluate carbon risks across its portfolio, (2) to move from high-carbon assets to low-carbon alternatives, (3) to cut direct investments in coal and tar sands oil, and (4) to engage with policy makers, financial regulators, and corporate management on climate risk issues.

With official endorsement from OUSU, 29 college common rooms, over 100 academics, and more than 550 alumni have threatened to suspend their contributions unless the University agrees to divest.

Over the last 18 months, students have taken part in protests, rallies, marches, teach-ins and academic and alumni petition drives over the issue of fossil fuel investment.

A separate campaign is also being carried out encouraging alumni to “hand back” their degrees if the University refuses to divest, with alumni from 15 different colleges, including Solarcentury founder Jeremy Leggett and journalist George Monbiot, participating.

OUSU President Louis Trup commented: “The University Council has seriously considered the proposals and has decided it wants to get more information before making a final decision, most likely in May. I hope that in the time between then and now, students continue to make it clear that the University has a moral duty to the planet and must listen to its expert researchers who are leading calls to divest.”

A statement on behalf of Oxford University said: “The University Council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting”.

While Oxford has partially divested from arms manufacturing companies over the past five years, the University’s relationship with fossil fuel companies extends beyond its investments. Two years ago, Oxford accepted funds from Royal Dutch Shell to build a new Earth Sciences laboratory, and Shell also funds research doctorates in geochemistry.

Baird added: “Climate change is already happening, and unfortunately, the planet doesn’t have time to wait for divestment to be bounced between endless University Councils; Oxford University needs to recognize its position as a global leader, take the initiative and divest, sooner, rather than later.

Miriam Chapman, a student campaigner, was hopeful as to the future of the divestment project, saying that students “will continue to campaign and lobby on this issue until the University commits to full divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies”.

 

 

COVER PHOTO//Rennett Stowe

IMAGE//Fossil Free UK, Facebook

 

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