The University of Edinburgh is to change the way it invests in companies involved in the extraction of the highest emitting carbon fuels.
The change in the university’s fossil fuel investment policy will see it withdraw from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands if realistic alternative sources of energy are available, and the companies involved are not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions.
Edinburgh will also seek to “change the behaviour” of all the companies in which it invests, not just those in the fossil fuels sector, by requiring them to report on their emissions and by “benchmarking them” according to best performance in their sector. It has also been agreed that the university “will use its research activities and its responsible investment to work with companies to reduce their emissions”.
The student action group People & Planet, which campaigns for complete divestment, said the university had “bowed to the fossil fuel industry lobby” by not announcing full divestment.
“By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the University of Edinburgh is putting short-term gains ahead of the long-term interests of its students and the wider world, and undermining its image as a forward-thinking institution which is leading in climate change research,” said campaign coordinator Miriam Wilson.
“It is untenable for a university to bankroll an industry which is driving the destruction of its students’ future.”
However, the university said it does not see choices as either a continuation of the status quo or a complete withdrawal of all fossil fuel investments.
Senior vice-principal Charlie Jeffery said: “The decision outlines our commitment to use the leverage of our investments to bring about change that reduces carbon emissions in the fossil fuels and other sectors, and to press further with our world-leading research activities that actively contribute to the solution of problems arising from fossil fuel emissions and the identification of alternative technologies.”
The decision was informed by a Fossil Fuels Review Group at the university, which included Tasha Boardman, vice-president for services at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, and academic experts from the School of GeoSciences.
“I think it is fantastic that the university [has] committed to divest from some of the dirtiest fossil fuel pollutants destroying the planet,” Ms Boardman said.
“They have taken a stance against climate change and this is something we need to see take place globally to move forward in trying to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
The University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to commit to divesting from the fossil fuel industry in October last year, and in January, the University of Bedfordshire followed suit. Last month, Soas, University of London, became the latest institution to say it would divest from fossil fuels.
In November last year, climate change campaigner Bill McKibben, scholar in residence in environmental studies at Middlebury College, Vermont, accused universities of being “disappointingly slow” at divesting.