Edinburgh University to divest from three major fossil fuel firms

A student anti-fossil fuel protest at Edinburgh University
A student anti-fossil fuel protest at Edinburgh University

Edinburgh University has succumbed to student pressure and protest occupations at some of its buildings and has now agreed to dis-investment from three major fossil-fuel energy companies.

The university will now write to ‘three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers’ to inform them that it intends to fully divest from their activities within the next six months.

A spokesman for the university said it was unable to name the firms because of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

But its generic description of the group means that either or both Shell and BP are likely to be involved.

The decision was taken by the university’s Investment Committee, which met yesterday for the first time since the university agreed changes to its fossil fuel investment policy on 11 May. The decision also follows similar moves by Oxford  and Glasgow universities.

Professor Charlie Jeffery, University Senior Vice-Principal, said the action is an important next step in the process that began when the policy changes were agreed by the University’s ruling body, the University Court. 

The university is targeting companies involved in coal or tar sands production as these are high carbon-emitting industries that operate where alternative sources of energy exist. 

As part of its promised engagement process prior to divestment, the university will give the three companies the opportunity to respond in the next four weeks. It intends to divest within six months.

Going forward, the guidelines will be used to determine decisions on any future investments.

The Investment Committee re-iterated Edinburgh’s commitment to prioritising low or zero-carbon investments by identifying and replacing investments with lower carbon alternatives where available. It will also press companies across its investment portfolio to reduce their carbon emissions.

And the spokesman added: “Through its research and teaching activity Edinburgh University will continue to explore alternative sources of renewable energy and to develop low carbon technologies.

Professor Jeffery said: “This decision underlines the recent commitment made by the University to address the challenge of climate change though its responsible investment policy.

“We will act quickly to reduce harmful emissions through divestment, reinforcing the work we do to act on climate change through research and teaching.”

Edinburgh’s move follows a similar divestment decision by Oxford University. Juliet Davenport, OBE, is the chief executive of the all-green Good Energy supplier – and also a Physics graduate from Oxford.

She commented: I welcome the decision by Oxford University to avoid investment in coal and tar sands – it’s a positive statement. But 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. Seven rivers meet in Oxford and colleges already have plans for the risks of flooding resulting from climate change.

“And the economic argument for divestment is compelling; with stocks in renewables out-performing traditional investments, it’s a no brainer from an economic and an environmental point of view.”

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