Why the University of York should divest in fossil fuels and join the growing fossil free movement

Photo Credit: 350.org

Photo Credit: 350.org

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.


  1. 19 Oct ’14 at 4:33 am


    Are we really a cursed people? Is there no way out of this trap but to destroy the thing that feeds us?

    Fossil fuels have built this world, but now we can no longer use them. Forget managed transition, because some people of a certain political bent have decided to go for all out war. Fossil fuels no longer feed us all, keep us all warm, make our world affordable. They no longer sustain billions of people. They kill millions. They damage the world.

    Yes, they do. Yes, WE do.

    But the response from the professors at the University of Glasgow to their universities attack on what still powers it every day and allows it to educate the people who will hopefully develop the systems and technology to manage our transition from fossil fuel says it all. They think their university is playing into a meaningless game.

    Over 10 years it will shift 18 million out of fossil fuels, as I am sure will many funds. They are not the guaranteed income they once were for investors. But that is not how the game is being presented. People are falsely attacking what they then go home to use to heat their homes and power their cars.

    At 195 kWh per day per person no-one can build a renewable grid capable of powering us in the next 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 years. Yet some people want us to turn it off in 5 minutes time, or 5 days, or 5 years.

    We must not attack the people who work day in day out to keep us warm and fed. We must not stigmatise them or aim to discriminate against them.

    To do so would be the height of irresponsibility, even with the fact that the people doing so then go home to use these same fuels, whether it be through using gas to cook, or through coal plants in China subsidising the cost of cheap solar panels to the EU.

    Yet that is what one section of the population is trying to do here. It makes no difference at all that over 10 years 18 million will be divested. Over 18 years billions safely can be without risking economies. There is over $5 trillion dollars invested in fossil fuels right now. Trillions will be withdrawn over the coming decades as a simple response to their economics.

    What these campaigns are about is trying to embarrass anyone with funds invested in fossil fuels. Yet that is ridiculous for many reasons. Managed transition can be achieved through regulation and new technologies. Yet the money to build these new infrastructures needs to come from somewhere. The energy companies are not going to go away. They will become the renewable companies of the future. Making it embarrassing to invest in them, or work for them, results in money and talent being drained away from the energy sector right at the time when it is most needed leaving infrastructure badly in need of replacement and repair falling on tax payers.

    The money in the energy sector cannot be moved from fossil fuel companies (which are also the biggest holders of renewables as well, compared to solely renewable provides that are far far smaller by comparison) and placed elsewhere within it. At over $5 trillion there is simply no where for it all to go. All that could happen is that it is withdrawn, and that will harm us all far more than managed transition away from fossil fuels and those same energy companies the environmentalists hate being part of the solution.

    Meanwhile, their typical response is deluded. We cannot live without some nuclear and fossil baseload. Fine, lets get everything we can from renewables, but if we stigmatise the people and businesses that we also need to support those renewables then we will only damage ourselves further.

    Reply Report

    • Thanks, corporate shill. An excellent example of why this campaign (which is largely symbolic after all) is necessary. There’s huge resistance from vested interests in de-carbonising the economy. Divestment helps break it down. You’re obviously taking the PR risk seriously so it’s clear what an effective tactic it is. Hope York follows Glasgow.

      Reply Report

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