The University of Edinburgh faces continued criticism from the Fossil Free UK movement for failing to commit to divestment from oil companies.
Campaigners point out that the recent global fall in oil prices means the continued investment is worth less than before and that delays have cost the university money.
University Rector Peter McColl called the continued investment in fossil fuels “immoral.”
He told The Student: “Investing in fossil fuels is investing in the acceleration of climate change and the abuse of human rights. But it’s not just immoral. It’s very risky.
“From the Deepwater Horizon disaster where BP was nearly driven to bankruptcy because of its cuts to health and safety to the current collapse of the oil price, investments in fossil fuels aren’t safe.
“The news that the University’s holdings in fossil fuels have diminished by over £4m in the past 6 months shows how risky these investments are. Divesting from fossil fuels is right both morally and financially. It’s time to do it now.”
Edinburgh has one of the largest investments in oil companies in the UK, alongside Oxford and Cambridge. UK universities invest around £5 billion in the companies in question, including Shell and BP. This is roughly £2,000 per student.
In October 2014, the University of Glasgow became the first European university to divest, agreeing to begin withdrawing £18 million-worth of investments. Glasgow was joined in the last few days by the University of Bedfordshire and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
Outside Europe, 16 American universities have committed to divestment, as well as one university in New Zealand and one in the Marshall Islands.
Speaking to The Student at the time of the Glasgow divestment, EUSA’s Vice President Services Tasha Boardman said: “We are overwhelmingly happy that Glasgow University became the first university in Europe to divest […] However it is a shame that this wasn’t Edinburgh. Last year The University of Edinburgh was the first university in Europe to commit to the United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Investment.”
Fossil Free UK says that “thousands” of institutions and people have pledged to divest in fossil fuels since their campaign started in 2012. They claim it is “the fastest-growing divestment movement in history”, beating even the anti-Apartheid divestment movement in the 1980s.
Fossil Free UK hope to build on this even more with Global Divestment Days on the 13th and 14th of February, in the run up to climate talks among world leaders in Paris.
Oil divestment is not viewed as a wise move for universities by some experts.
Rob Ellam, who directs the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s jointly-run Scottish Universities Environmental Research, responded to Glasgow’s divestment policy, saying: “I am a champion for environmental science in the University of Glasgow, but my environmental science includes keeping the lights on, keeping people warm and keeping them safely fed”.
Colin McInnes, a professor of engineering at Glasgow, said that universities should “engage with the energy sector as responsible investors and innovators, helping expedite these energy transitions”, instead of issuing an unhelpful “blanket divestment.”