Oxford Brookes made the strongest commitment of the higher education institutions, pledging to divest its £1.6m endowment from all fossil fuel companies.

The University of Oxford’s Wolfson College – which holds the holds the largest endowment of the group at £42m – passed a policy that excludes investments in “companies that derive a majority of their revenue from the exploration, ownership or extraction of thermal coal and oil sands”.

The University of Oxford as a whole ruled out future investments in coal and tar sands from its multi-billion pound endowment back in May.

A further six institutions – Birmingham City University, Cranfield University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Portsmouth and University of Westminster – also joined the divestment movement this week after their fund manager CCLA decided to divest from coal and tar sands.

Glass half-empty?

However, Jeremy Leggett, a solar entrepreneur and alumnus of Wolfson College, said that full fossil fuel divestment was needed to send a statement to oil and gas companies.

Leggett said: “Divesting from coal and tar sands is a good start, but it isn’t realistic to think that individual colleges and even universities can engage effectively with oil and gas giants to change behaviour.

“They should just divest. How incongruous is it to teach young people the science behind global warming’s dire threat to their future, and then invest in two of the main routes to fuelling it?”

Mass protest

A spokesperson for the National Union of Students warned that up to a million students could walk out of their lessons on 30 November as part of a protest on the first day of the COP21 climate talks in Paris

NUS vice president for society and citizenship Piers Telemacque said: “It’s amazing to see more universities divesting as we build momentum towards the climate talks in Paris.

“We need to show the sort of moral leadership we want to see from our governments. This is just the latest example of students making change on today’s most pressing social justice issue. I can’t wait to see what we achieve on the day of action. It’s going to be huge.”

In October, the University of Surrey announced plans to fully divest its £42m endowment from fossil fuels, becoming the eighth UK university with divestment commitments.

Globally, investors worth $2.6trn have joined the divestment movement, including Leonardo Di Caprio and his charitable foundation, the British Medical Association, the Norway Pension Fund, the World Council of Churches and the University of California system.

Brad Allen

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