Students protest as Edinburgh Uni refuses to end fossil fuel investments

Charlie Jeffery
Charlie Jeffery

A group of students occupied part of Edinburgh University yesterday after it was announced that the institution had rejected a call for a moratorium on investments in the fossil fuel industry (including its pension fund).

The institution had carried out a consultation after its students’ association asked it to reconsider its position on the investments.

However, on Tuesday it said it would withdraw investments from the most polluting fuels, coal and “tar sands”, only if there were realistic alternative sources of energy available and the companies involved were not investing in technology to cut carbon emissions.

Announcing the changes to its policy, the university said its choices had not been limited to no change or pulling out of all investments.

It said it would use its research activities and “responsible investment” to work with companies to reduce their emissions and the university will now require companies to report on their emissions and benchmark them according to the best performance in their sector.

But environmental campaigners criticised the university for missing a “clear opportunity” to take a moral lead on tackling climate change.

Last year, Glasgow University became the first in the UK to announce it would sell off the shares it holds in companies that produce fossil fuels.

About 30 protesters from the People & Planet group occupied the administrative building, Charles Stewart House, on the city’s Chambers Street, in protest at the university’s stance.

Campaigner Kirsty Haigh said: “We’re incredibly disappointed at the university’s decision. We’ve been running this campaign for three years and people have said that they want to divest from fossil fuels, and the university has not listened.”

A statement from Edinburgh University said: “The student body has been represented throughout Edinburgh’s fossil fuels investment policy discussions.

“Following a request from our Students’ Association, the university set up a fossil fuels review group to consider the case for divestment of university assets from fossil fuel companies.

“As announced on Tuesday, the university will use its research activities and responsible investment to work with companies to reduce their emissions.

“Through its commitment to responsible investment, the university will seek to change the behaviour of the companies in which it invests by requiring them to report on their emissions and by benchmarking them according to best performance in their sector.”

Defending the university’s decision, Prof Charlie Jeffery, Edinburgh University’s senior vice principal, said: “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.

“As a global civic institution, the University of Edinburgh will continue to take its lead through our research, teaching and knowledge exchange and helping society understand, manage and reduce climate risks.”

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