All universities should follow Edinburgh’s example of divestment

On 5 February 2018 the University of Edinburgh became the UK university with the largest endowment fund – a massive £6.3 mil. – to pull out of all investments in coal, oil and gas. This divestment, achieved after a long student-run campaign headed by People & Planet Edinburgh, is something we should all be proud of: it resolutely confirms our university as a leader in the fight against climate change.

Only two weeks ago information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that other UK universities, most notably Oxford and Cambridge, are still investing billions into fossil fuels – in effect, undermining their efforts and world-leading research into renewable energy sources. Cambridge still has 6.4% of their £5.9 billion endowment fund invested in fossil fuels – that’s an absolutely huge £377,431,354. If the continued, and soon to be irreparable, damage to the environment that Oxbridge and other UK universities are perpetuating is not shocking enough, it is their refusal to divest that which will soon, and rightly so, cause significant damage to their reputations.

Cambridge argues that divestment will damage Cambridge University’s Endowment Fund’s (CUFF) ability to invest successfully, which would have a negative impact on the research of academic activities. Much of this academic research is on climate change – 500 Cambridge academics have necessitated the urgency of divestment and the falsity of the university’s position on divestment. Cambridge also argues that many of the energy companies it invests in, such as BP, also support renewable sources –  “green energy” makes up 0.03% of BP’s energy portfolio. Cambridge’s excuses are simply excuses, completely at odds with both what it preaches and its academic principles and integrity.

As the largest endowment fund out of any university in the UK, Cambridge has a  responsibility to divest. UK universities are world leaders in divestment, with over £80 billion divested. The enormity of CUFF literally offsets the divestment of many of the efforts of universities with smaller endowment funds, as well as discrediting our world reputation: it should not be the much smaller, much less well off, universities, showing Cambridge that divestment is more than possible. Cambridge also currently stands at number one in the UK’s university league tables: it should, and its research does represent the best of our academic institutions, standing as an example to many other universities in the country, and the world. If Cambridge’s stance on climate change is exposed as hypocritical, it may cause other universities to give up research and investment into renewable energy sources.

Divestment on a worldwide scale is a necessity, and Cambridge is one of our institution’s with the most power to help its rapid acceleration. We cannot continue postponing divestment, not least because fossil fuels are disappearing, and will not be valuable investments for much longer. Continued investment in fossil fuels will rapidly push us to a point of climate damage we cannot come back from. At some point in the ever closer future we will run out of fossil fuels; investment in fossil fuels represents a lack of investment and effort in sustainable energy sources, leaving us with an all-too-possible future without energy. Our universities must be at the forefront of heralding a new era of renewable, sustainable energy, rather than pushing us towards our doomsday.


Image: Friends of the Earth Scotland via Flickr

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