Edinburgh and SOAS fulfil university divestment pledges

SOAS University of London has fulfilled a pledge to divest from fossil fuels within three years, in the same week that the University of Edinburgh became the largest university endowment fund to completely to divest away from coal, oil and gas.

Following numerous student campaigns, the University of Edinburgh announced on Monday (5 February) that it will sell the remainder of its £1bn endowment fund that is currently still linked to fossil fuel holdings.

Despite agreeing to divest from companies involved in coal and tar sands in 2015, the University kept around £6.3m of holdings in companies like Total and Atlas Copco. The University has now agreed to sell these final shares.

The University of Edinburgh’s senior vice-principal professor Charlie Jeffrey said: “I’m very proud of the University’s decision. Climate change is one of the world’s biggest challenges. Over the past few years, we have thought hard about how to respond to that challenge. This change in our investment strategy is a vital step on that journey.”

More than 60 UK universities have now divested from fossil fuels, but Edinburgh’s £1bn fund is the largest to completely remove ties to fossil fuel holdings. The fund is actually the third largest in the UK behind Oxford and Cambridge, but those universities are yet to fully divest.

The announcement is said to form a key milestone in the University’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2040. Since 2010, it has invested more than £150m in low-carbon technologies, climate research and businesses that benefit the environment.

University challenge

In related news, SOAS University of London this week became the first university in the capital to successfully divest from fossil fuels. SOAS was the first university in London to make the pledge three years ago and has now fulfilled that promise.

The University no longer has any investments with oil and gas producers, or any companies that derive more than 10% of their revenues from coal mining. Like the Edinburgh decision, the pledge was driven by student protests.

SOAS’s director Baroness Valerie Amos said: “It is thanks to our students that we became the first university in London to commit to divesting from fossil fuels. SOAS students care about the future of our planet and push the School to live to its values. I am delighted that we have fulfilled our pledge.”

Its been a week of change for many of the UK’s higher education facilities. Following a successful four-month trial, the University of Winchester has rolled out a behaviour change programme to all staff members in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and boost wellbeing.

After slashing energy consumption by 14.6% across active departments, Bournemouth University is rolling out the JUMP programme to all staff in a way that contributes to at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Elsewhere, the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) this week reported that it had reduced its carbon footprint by more than a third, while the University of Bristol has also divested all investments in carbon-intensive sectors.

Matt Mace

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