SOAS leads London universities with divestment decision

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London has become the first university in London to fully divest from fossil fuels following a lengthy campaign by staff and students.

The 18-month campaign, including a petition signed by over 1,000 students and staff and an open letter from 63 staff to management last week, resulted in the School’s Governing Body making the momentous decision on Friday (24 April).

The University plans to remove the estimated £1.5m currently held in oil and gas equities within three years. An ethical investment criterion will be added to SOAS’ Ethical Investment Policy in order to implement the divestment plan.

Ethical Investment

SOAS had already frozen all new investments in fossil fuels in June 2014 while the question of divestment was discussed.

“SOAS is proud to become the first university in London to divest and we hope more universities will follow suit,” SOAS’s director Professor Paul Webley said. “Divestment from fossil fuels will enable SOAS to fulfil its responsibilities as an ethical investor, while continuing to ensure that the School’s investments deliver a financial return.

“This is in line with SOAS’ commitment to environmental sustainability and an important part of the transition towards renewable energy, which SOAS takes very seriously as an institution. As the harmful social and environmental impacts of climate change becoming increasingly clear, these initiatives ensure that SOAS is doing all it can to show leadership on this issue.”

SOAS holds sustainability as one of its ‘key values’ and has reduced the carbon emissions from its buildings by more than half (55%) in real terms since 2008, resulting in a saving of £1.2m for the University and placing it 20th in the University Carbon Reduction League Table, released earlier this month.

Divestment Campaigns

“This is a historic decision, part of a shifting tide away fossil fuels that is happening across the world as we speak,” said Fossil Free SOAS campaign member Julia Christian. “The fossil fuel industry is a thing of the past.

“We urge our governments to pay attention to the inspiring divestment campaigns by people young and old at universities, local governments and religious institutions across the world, and put all our weight towards shifting to the renewable energy future we need.”

Andrew Taylor, campaigns manager at People & Planet, which supports university divestment campaigns across the UK added: “Universities that continue to say no to divestment are eroding their legitimacy to teach about sustainability.”

The University of Glasgow became the first educational institution in Europe to divest from fossil fuels in October 2014, followed by Edinburgh University announcing in April that it was dumping coal and tar sand stocks, although it was criticised for not going far enough.

Oxford University received intense backlash from former students pledging to hand back their degrees when it announced it was deferring any divestment decision on its £3.8bn endowment in March.

Lucinda Dann

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