Edinburgh University makes divestment U-turn

Edinburgh University has announced plans to divest from coal and tar sands within the next six months, apparently reversing a recent ruling by the university's court.

On 12 May, Edinburgh rejected plans to divest from all fossil fuels, saying it would do so only where feasible alternative sources of energy existed, and where companies were not investing in low carbon technologies.

The decision sparked outrage from students and campaigners, including pickets, marches on campus and a 10-day occupation of the university central management building.

However, the University has announced this week that it is writing 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.

Edinburgh said it will give the companies – which it did not name – the opportunity to respond in the next four weeks, but did not clarify what it expected to gain from the engagement.


Kirsty Haigh, a student campaigner with Edinburgh People & Planet and NUS Scotland VP Communities, said: “We are glad to see the University finally accept that there are lower carbon alternatives to coal and tar sands, but it should have never taken this long.

“The University is pledging to ‘engage’ with these companies for the next 4 weeks before divesting, but have refused to outline what that means.

“These companies pour millions into greenwashing and it is crucial that the University is not bought over by this, and that they follow through and fully divest from them.”

‘Leave it in the ground’

The University was unable to specify what percentage of its investments are in coal and tar sands specifically, although 8-9% is invested in companies involved in some form of fossil fuel extraction. Edinburgh’s endowment is worth £291m – the third biggest of any UK university, behind Oxford and Cambridge.

Fossil-free campaign coordinator at People & Planet, Miriam Wilson, said:”Companies involved in coal and tar sands extraction are irrevocably damaging our climate and attempts to engage with them to mitigate their climate impacts have failed.

“80% of coal reserves and all of the Canadian tar sands need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. We urge the University of Edinburgh to go beyond today’s announcement and commit to full divestment within 5 years – nothing short of this is enough.”

The University of Glasgow, Bedfordshire University and SOAS, University of London have all committed to divest from fossil fuels, whilst the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has committed to divest from coal and Oxford University has spurned coal and tar sands investments.

Brad Allen

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