Edinburgh University rejects fossil-fuel energy divestment plan

The Old Quad, Edinburgh University - where rope marks left by the infamous bodysnatchers Burke and Hare after they hauled fresh cadavers up the elegant George steps for medical teaching can still be seen to this day
The Old Quad, Edinburgh University – where rope marks left by the infamous bodysnatchers Burke and Hare after they hauled fresh cadavers up the elegant George steps for medical teaching can still be seen to this day

By DARA BUTTERFIELD

Edinburgh University has rejected a proposal  to divest from fossil fuels – to the disappointment of a group of activist students after three years in the making.

The university has instead opted to use its investments as “leverage” to encourage companies to reduce emissions. Students have protested against the decision with a group of 30 people recently occupying an Edinburgh University administration building.

Professor Charlie Jeffery, senior vice principal, said: “This may not conform to expectation, but we think it right. An abrupt shift away from fossil-fuel use would impact on the well-being of some of the world’s poorest communities.

“The decision outlines our commitment to use the leverage of our investments to bring about change that reduces carbon emissions in the fossil fuels and other sectors, and to press further with our world-leading research activities that actively contribute to the solution of problems arising from fossil fuel emissions and the identification of alternative technologies.”

Edinburgh’s endowment is worth £291m – the third biggest of any UK university, behind Oxford and Cambridge – and 8-9% of the university’s investments are accounted for by companies involved in fossil fuels.

Edinburgh University said that it will scrutinise its investment in companies involved in the extraction of the “highest carbon-emitting fossil fuels” specifically coal and tar sands.

However they will only divest from these companies if “realistic alternative sources of energy are available” and the companies were “not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions and climate change”.

Climate campaigners expressed their disappointment at the news, which comes after Glasgow University became the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry last October.

The fossil-fuel ‘di-vestment’ campaign is privately loathed alike by both energy academics and university managers, who point out that fossil-fuel dividends help to provide for expensive, extensive, and long-term research, help to pay for academics and their research and is in any event a ‘blunt instrument’ which does not connect this signal to the  shareholders – who are the de facto and legal owners of private sector publicly-listed oil giants such as Shell and BP.

The principal of a Scottish university told Scottish Energy News last night: “Do these kids think money grows on windmills?

“Where do they think the money for the research grants, endowments and bursaries – all the financial paraphernalia which helps us to engage with industry – comes from?

‘This is like saying to the major chemicals and drug companies  – no thanks, we don’t want your money to pay for research to find a cure for cancer.”

 

 

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