University of Glasgow ahead of schedule in its plan to divest fully from fossil fuels

Picture of the University of Glasgow
Credit: Steve Houldsworth

Sam Doak
Investigations Editor

The University of Glasgow is ahead of schedule in its plan to divest fully from fossil fuels by 2024, a freedom of information request has revealed. As of 30 June, 5.3% of the university’s endowment was invested in companies within the fossil fuel industry. This puts the institution significantly ahead of its target to have reduced such investments to 6.4% by the end of the 2019 financial year.

Following a vote by the university court in October 2014, it was announced that the University of Glasgow would divest fully from fossil fuels over a ten year period. Described at the time by prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben as “a dramatic beachhead for the divestment movement”, the decision made the university the first higher education institution in Europe to commit to such divestment. With an excess of £18 million invested in fossil fuel companies in 2014, the University has steadily divested from such companies in the years since.

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said, “The University Court decided in 2014 to reduce holdings in the oil/gas energy sector from 10% to 0% by 2025. The interim target was to reduce holdings to 6.4% by September 2019. The current holding, as of 30 April 2019 is 5.49% of our portfolio, which is well ahead of schedule. The University will also be bringing forward proposals in the autumn to engage the University community more directly in the effort to progressively achieve carbon neutrality.”

News of the University’s progress in regards to fossil fuel divestment has been met with mixed responses from local environmental advocacy groups. In a statement to The Glasgow Guardian, Greenpeace’s local branch was keen to emphasise the need for rapid divestment and urged the university to accelerate its efforts. Speaking on behalf of the organisation, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Glasgow stated that:

“Greenpeace supports rapid fossil divestment. We welcome Glasgow University’s progress in divesting from dirty energy so far. However, we urge the university to speed up its process, as well as using its influence to persuade other universities to follow its example. We are in an emergency situation and every month counts”

The sentiment that the University ought to accelerate its divestment efforts in response to the climate emergency was shared by the Glaswegian branch of Extinction Rebellion. When asked to comment on the institution’s progress in this area, a spokesperson for the branch stated the following:

“While the university may still be ahead of schedule on their divestment promises, it is sheer hypocrisy for the institution to formally declare a climate emergency while still investing in fossil fuel industries. With this in mind it is imperative that the university immediately moves away from any investment with corporations that are destroying the planet. Furthermore, it is a good reminder of the hesitation shown by large institutions to move investment portfolios away from fossil fuel corporations.”

Pointing to Goldsmith’s recent commitment to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2025, Extinction Rebellion’s spokesperson argued that the University of Glasgow ought to take more immediate and comprehensive measures in order to mitigate its environmental impact. According to Extinction Rebellion Glasgow, in response to the climate emergency “the University should be setting an example for others by showing commitment to a 100% divestment from fossil fuels immediately, in line with their emergency declaration, as well as a commitment to complete carbon neutrality by 2025”.