Oxford University bans investment in fossil fuels after student campaigns

Decision comes after high-profile protests that saw campaigners occupy St John’s College

Samuel Lovett
Wednesday 22 April 2020 15:55 BST
Students occupy St John's College in opposition to in opposition of its investment in fossil fuels

The University of Oxford has agreed to divest from fossil fuels and commit to a net-zero investment strategy following extensive student-led campaigns and protests.

In a motion passed by Oxford’s governing body, the Congregation, which is made up of 5,500 academic and administrative members, the university is now required to cut all ties with fossil fuel firms and end future investment in these companies.

The resolution also dictates that managers of the university’s endowment, which amounts to £3bn, must acquire evidence of “net-zero business plans” from companies within Oxford’s portfolio of investments.

The policy, first raised by the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, earned wide support from the student body and council, and was sponsored by 79 senior university figures.

Cameron Hepburn, director of the Oxford Smith School for Enterprise and Environment, said: “Oxford has led the world on research on net-zero in science, finance and economics, and we have shown leadership and creativity in our position on net-zero with employers of Oxford graduates.

“It is excellent that we are also taking a logical and hard-nosed approach to the impact of our endowment. The proposed combination of divestment and engagement around net-zero is more powerful than either strategy alone.”

Passage of the resolution comes after high-profile student protests earlier this year that saw campaigners occupy St John’s College, the wealthiest in Oxford, over its £8m investments in BP and Shell.

Alumni of the college, including award-winning poet and writer Mark Abley, threatened to withhold donations unless it committed to selling shares in the two fossil fuel companies.

The group of graduates accused college leaders of “dismissing” the action and demands of the students after the conclusion of the five-occupation.

Momentum against the fossil fuel industry has been growing at Oxford in recent years, with divestment announcements issued by colleges including St Hilda’s, Wadham and Balliol.

In January, Balliol College agreed to reduce investments in fossil fuel companies “as far and as fast as is practicable” following pressure from students.

A role within the university’s Investment Committee will be created to ensure the new policy is followed and make sure companies benefitting from Oxford’s endowment fund are providing evidence of net-zero business plans.

Anna Olerinyova, a student of medical sciences at St John’s College and a member of the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, said: “The fact that the world’s top University is abandoning fossil fuels shows that the age of fossil fuels is rapidly coming to an end.

“We hope the message from Oxford to the world is clear; listen to the science, prepare for the future and ditch fossil fuels.”

The scale of Oxford’s fossil fuels investment had far outweighed any UK university other than Cambridge – which is yet to announce divestment places.

At the start of the year, analysis revealed that almost all of Britain’s top universities have pledged to at least partially divest from fossil fuels following years of campaigning from students.

Oxford also plans to release a much wider, ambitious sustainability and climate strategy in the coming academic year.

News of the university’s divestment comes on Earth Day, an annual event, now into its 50th year, celebrated around the world to demonstrate support for environmental protection and action.

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