The number of UK higher education institutions vowing to exclude fossil fuel from investments has grown to 43, according to research conducted by student campaign network People & Planet.
It found that 16 UK universities have recently committed to divestment, joining 27 others. The University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to divest in 2014, following months of campaigning by the Glasgow University Climate Action Society. The university froze new investments and began to divest £18 million from the fossil fuel industry.
Now, more than a quarter of UK universities are committed to divestment, according to People & Planet, making the UK “the world leader” in fossil fuel divestment at higher education institutions, the group said.
Fewer than 100 universities worldwide – including 35 in the US – have decided to cut their ties with fossil fuel companies.
“I think that strong student and staff support for fossil fuel divestment is key,” said Andrew Taylor, co-director, campaigns and communications, at People & Planet. “Universities have accepted that if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
The number of UK universities breaking away from the fossil fuel industry has grown quickly, and decisions are expected in the following months at Durham University, the University of Essex, the University of Manchester and the University of Reading.
There are concerns, however, that there are insufficient alternative options for investment in the short term, and that the government will not help to encourage further divestment at UK universities.
“Policy-wise, it’s hard to see the current government taking steps to support divestment. More likely they will look for ways to undermine the movement,” Mr Taylor said. “In the case of higher education, the Browne review [of fees in 2010] led to greater dependence on research funding ties to partnerships with companies like BP and Shell.
“I think the continuing driver for divestment will be students and staff organising on campuses across the UK and beyond.”