This week, the University of Glasgow made history by becoming the first UK and European University to announce that it is ‘divesting’ from the fossil fuels industry – halting any new investments and reallocating some £18m of investments already made within the next decade. In a statement, David Newall, Secretary of the University of Glasgow Court, said: “The university recognises the devastating impact that climate change may have on our planet and the need for the world to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Over the coming years, we will steadily reduce our investment in the fossil fuel extraction industry, whilst also taking steps to reduce our carbon consumption.”
The University of Glasgow’s decision came after a year of protests, petitions and demonstrations in favour of the “Fossil Free” divestment campaign by Glasgow students and staff, and they are not alone. In the US, a number of prominent universities, including Stanford, have announced similar commitments to divest and go fossil free after student and staff campaigns. Elsewhere in the UK, according to student-led environmental campaigning group People and Planet, students at 46 UK universities have gained over 15,000 signatures on petitions calling for their universities to go completely fossil free, demonstrations have been held and there has already been success, with SOAS freezing any new fossil fuel based investments earlier this year. It is clear that the fossil free campaign is one that is growing and winning in a huge number of universities, and it is time that the University of York got involved.
The dangers that climate change poses are well known, and it is undeniable that the widespread use of fossil fuels and the resulting release of CO2 plays a damaging role in contributing towards global warming and climate change, as well as phenomena like acid rain and coastal erosion. It is also worth noting methods for extracting fossil fuels, from fracking to onshore and offshore oil drilling, can be highly damaging – oil spills, the destruction of local habitats and ecosystems and the harming of local communities and wildlife are all very real risks when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.
Given the various negative effects of fossil fuels and their extraction, divesting and becoming a fossil free university would be perfectly in line with the university’s vision of becoming an institution that “operates sustainably across the full range of its activities” and that “makes a strong contribution to the development of a sustainable world” as set out in York’s Sustainability Strategy. Divesting from fossil fuels would also offer a brilliant opportunity to invest in more ethical and sustainable alternatives, as a number of fossil free universities have already done, turning the investment made into something positive and enriching for the university and the planet.
Were the University of York to divest from fossil fuels and become a fossil free university, it would complement and strengthen the good environmental and ethical work already being done on campus. It would also be a bold and powerful statement from one of the UK’s most well regarded universities about the importance of creating a sustainable, ethical and more positive future that would hopefully encourage other universities to follow in York’s footsteps. With the fossil free movement gaining pace and victories, there is no better time for York to get on board.