The chairman of the company which owns the UK’s second largest producer of carbon dioxide is to be amongst those who will receive an honorary degree at this year’s BA graduation ceremonies. Gordon Horsfield, who is chair of the Drax Group, will receive an honorary degree at the same ceremony as that in which current third year History students will graduate.
The Drax Group, which Horsfield joined in 2003, is the parent company of Drax Power Limited, the owner of Drax power station. Drax, which lies five miles south east of Selby, emitted around 20.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005, and, according to the group Camp for Climate Action, is the world’s 79th largest emitter of carbon dioxide. It is the second largest emitter in the UK, second only to Heathrow Airport. Drax has often been a target of climate change campaigners, and the University’s decision to award Mr Horsfield an honorary degree has proved controversial.
A spokesman for People & Planet said “The University of York is well renowned for its fantastic climate change research. This appointment flies in the face of what it is preaching and what it is researching. To be awarding honorary degrees to the second biggest polluter in the Britain is quite outrageous. This is exactly the kind of corporate behaviour that society in general and the University of York in particular should not be condoning.”
Kate Evans, chair of People & Planet society at York, said “the University as an institution should be setting an example and not supporting something which is contributing to the destruction of our planet. The University’s decision to honour Drax’s chairman severely undermines their statements in favour of sustainable development.”
University spokesman David Garner defended the decision, saying “We’re giving Gordon Horsfield an honorary degree because of the fantastic work he’s done for the University over many years. We will not comment on what Greenpeace, People & Planet or Drax power station say on this issue.”
Horsfield is a Pro-Chancellor of the University, and Chair of the University Council, the body which oversees the long-term direction of the university, monitors the university’s performance and appoints the Vice-Chancellor.
While Drax power station is Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power station, its owners stress its environmental credentials. According to Drax Power, Drax is the UK’s cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station, and its Environmental Performance Review for 2005, the most recent available, reported no breaches of the applicable environmental regulations.
Horsfield came out retirement to join the Drax Group in 2003. Previously, he was an accountant and then a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.