Divestment: now is the time


By Sophie Baumert & Anne Gütter

Two Climate Society members discuss Court’s decision to look at fossil fuel investments

Climate Society

On Wednesday 12 February, Glasgow University Court decided to reconsider the University’s investments in fossil fuel companies. At the moment, the University of Glasgow holds shares, currently worth between £18 and £19 million, in fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell.

Over the next two months, an advisory committee will investigate the issue of divestment and pass on its findings to the University Court, which will then make a decision on the future of the investments on 16 April.

This process is the result of the work of the Glasgow University Climate Action Society (GUCA), which has been campaigning for divestment since September 2013. GUCA’s fossil free campaign is part of a wider movement which was initiated by 350.org in the US and Canada.

The idea behind the campaign is to get fossil fuel companies where it hurts: their money. Several US universities, even cities, have already committed to the programme and the movement has recently been endorsed by the World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres.

Now students in the UK are also campaigning, for instance in Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge, coordinated by the student-led organisation People & Planet.

GUCA is leading the campaign at the University of Glasgow. As part of this we have created a petition, which was the first in the UK to gain over 1000 signatures, showing that students are widely supporting our cause. A motion was proposed to, and endorsed by, the SRC and put forward to the University Court and it will now decide on the issue.

With divestment officially on the University’s radar, and the growing momentum of the fossil free movement, we believe that it is time for the University of Glasgow to make a statement and be the first university in the UK to divest from fossil fuels.

The case for divestment is clear. Whilst convenient, it is irresponsible to consistently approach this issue with indifference. Given the inherently destructive nature of the fossil fuel industry and the irreversible effects it has on the planet we share, these companies should not be legitimised by any university, let alone our University since it is already committed to tackling climate change. Glasgow University’s environmental policy, programmes like GUEST (Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team) and the University’s commitment to the Carbon Management Programme (requiring the University to cut its carbon emissions) are proof of that.

Divestment from fossil fuel companies would, therefore, be the obvious next step. It is neither logical nor responsible to present the University as an eco-friendly institution while, at the same time, profiting from the very industry contributing immensely to environmental degradation.

The fund management of the University of Glasgow has already proven that it considers ethical investment to be a factor in its decision-making by divesting from the tobacco industry, since the business of that industry was completely opposed to the University’s interests in researching health issues.

We think now is the time to make a committed step and disassociate the University from an inherently destructive and counter-progressive business practice. We are aware that the University divesting from fossil fuels will not have a direct impact and bring about the downfall of the entire industry, but it would send an important message.

The question now is whether the advisory committee and the University are willing to take on this leading role. GUCA will provide the advisory committee with a brief which makes the case for divestment and will also raise awareness at the University about what is going on by hosting a
panel discussion and other events. The overarching aim of this is to convince the University that divestment is the better choice – one which supports a sustainable future for students and staff and which would act as an inspiration for fellow institutions.

We are campaigning to make the University an institution which is not only conscious of climate change, but which acts on it as well.

On 16 April the University of Glasgow could become the first UK University to walk the walk and take its money away from companies who are unwilling to change a business plan that is no longer acceptable in the face of climate change. We hope it will.