Oxford University Council announced on Monday that Oxford will “avoid any future direct investments in coal and oil sands”, following a year of campaigning by OUSU and other groups.
This decision, while ensuring that the University has legislation in place to prevent investment in some environmentally-damaging materials, does not go as far as the full divestment proposed by OUSU.
Louis Trup, OUSU president, commented: “I’m delighted that the University has taken a step in the right direction by pledging not to invest in coal or tar sands in the future. In the meeting, it was clear that the students who have been campaigning for this through OUSU’s environment and ethics campaign have changed the minds of some major critics.”
“The work the campaign has done alongside Dan Tomlinson and Ruth Meredith (OUSU’s previous and current VPs for Charities and Community) over the past 2 years should be applauded. However, this is only the first step. Now that the University has committed to some form of ethical investment, it must continue to take further steps to ensure that its wider investments are not funding devastating environmental disasters. But all in all, today is a good day.”
Cara Turton-Chambers, OUSU’s Environment and Ethics Secretary, added: “We are delighted that the University has recognised that investment in coal and tar sands is unethical. The University has agreed to becoming more transparent with its investments, we believe that transparency is a key issue with the university’s investment which needs be combated within university policy.
“This decision marks important progress in the divestment campaign but campaigning will continue until the University agrees to full divestment.”
In their press statement, Oxford University stated that it believes “this balanced investment policy strongly complements its wide-reaching research into climate change and its ambitious sustainability targets.”
However, the position taken by the University has come under criticism from some, who have claimed that it has not gone far enough by failing to pledge full divestment.
Juliet Davenport, founder of renewable electricity company Good Energy and graduate of Merton College, said in a statement: “I’d like to see a commitment to divestment from all fossil fuels. The University is raising significant funds for investment in its future, so now’s the time to take a strong stance.
“Oxford knows only too well what the effects of climate change could mean for its own historic city and its buildings…It’s a no brainer from an economic and an environmental point of view.”
The decision has also been criticised for applying only to direct investments, and leaving a loophole which means that the University can invest in companies which deal in coal or tar sands as long as less than 10% of the company’s income comes from these fossil fuels. This means that Oxford University would still be able to invest in companies including Shell and BP.
Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free Campaigns Manager at People & Planet, said: “When it comes to big oil this is a cautious first step. Tar sands need to be kept in the ground and universities should divest from any company digging them out. If you live in the shadow of tar sand extraction and you have been air lifted to hospital after drinking the water after a spill, it doesn’t matter if under 10% of the culprit’s production comes from tar sands.”
Oxford’s divestment campaign, Fossil Free Oxford, had stepped up their campaign in the weeks leading to the decision, including holding a protest dressed in boiler suits at the Radcliffe Camera on the grounds that “if the university is supporting the fossil fuel industry, we may as well dig up the Radcliffe Camera and search for oil there.”
Other UK universities are expected to make decisions in coming months.