University staff and students make £100m fossil fuel divestment call

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called on all UK higher education facilities to play their part in removing a £100m 'tip of the iceberg' fossil fuel fund and divest assets into renewable technology.

NUS has launched the ‘Divest-Invest’ campaign this week at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London.

The campaign is encouraging universities and colleges to pour £100m into renewable energy after a freedom of information request submitted by NUS found that UK higher education has invested £180m into fossil fuels – a figure that NUS actually believes is closer to £600m.

NUS vice president of society and citizenship Piers Telemacque said: “We looked into the investments of our universities and colleges because students don’t think our education system should be funding climate breakdown.

“We’ve set a target of moving £100 million of fossil fuel money into renewable alternatives. We’ll be working with students’ unions and showing leadership on sustainability where our government is failing.”

Divestment survey

In line with the response to its freedom of information request, NUS has also issued the results of a survey it conducted into the attitudes of university staff and students towards energy investment of UK universities. The survey revealed that 85% of staff and students believe that universities should invest in renewables, with 75% believing these investments should take place locally.

The survey also revealed that 90% are in favour of using renewables to supply heat electricity and fuel to local facilities. However, 60% of those surveyed admitted they are unsure of how to raise concerns about institutional investments.

So far, eight UK universities with endowments worth a total of £69m have announced fossil fuel divestment commitments. Just under 15% of universities and 5% of colleges are reported to having governors associated with the fossil fuel industry.

SOAS recently became the first institution in London to divest. As part of the campaign launch SOAS planted 100 ‘paper wind turbines’ to act as a visual representation for the £100m target.

Over the next 18 months, NUS will work with students’ unions to pressure institutions to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry. In the 2014/15 academic year around £20m of research funding available to universities was related to fossil fuels. In total 25% of universities are gifted with scholarships and sponsors from the industry.

Graham Peterson, University and College Union environment co-ordinator, said: “The United Nations has declared 2016 to be the year of Green Finance. It’s therefore very timely that NUS has produced this excellent piece of research.

 “UCU looks forward to working with the NUS on ethical investment and divestment campaigns at both institutional and national level.”

Despite a growing commitment to divestment among UK universities, sustainability is a strategic priority at just one quarter of UK further education institutions, according to the Environmental Association for Universities & Colleges (EAUC).

Sustainability consultancy Brite Green has also recently suggested that higher educational institutions will only achieve 12% carbon reductions by 2020 from a 2005 baseline – short of the 43% target set by the sector in 2008.

Matt Mace

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