Oxford accused of ‘dithering’ on fossil divestment

Campaigners have accused the University of Oxford of dithering over a decision on whether or not to divest from fossil fuels.

March 16, 2015

Earlier today, the university announced that it would wait until May to decide whether to continue investing in the fossil fuel sector, or if – like the Universities of Glasgow and Bedfordshire – it will bring an end to the practice.

Last October, an Oxford University Student Union resolution called on the institution to invest in low-carbon sectors and divest from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar-sands. The university said the union had “raised an important and multi-faceted matter which requires thorough consideration”.

“The University Council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting,” it said in a statement today.

The Oxford University Fossil Free Campaign said the announcement was disappointing. “This deferral represents serious complacency towards the urgent need for action on climate change,” a statement read. “We appreciate the university’s active engagement with the student body on this issue, and strongly urge the university to make the right decision without delay.”

It added that the campaigners would “continue to make our demands…with renewed urgency and determination”.

Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free campaign manager at the student campaign organisation People and Planet, said: “It is unacceptable that the University of Oxford is refusing to take urgent action and call out the rogue fossil fuel industry that is driving climate change. Instead it is dithering and making weak excuses.”

Last year, Bill McKibben, the American environmentalist and scholar in residence in environmental studies at Middlebury College, Vermont, said universities had a duty to stop “trying to pay for current operations in a way that it is completely clear will wreck the planet”.

Update, 17 March:

About 10 protesters who were unhappy with the university’s delay occupied an administrative building of the Bodleian Library on 16 March.

The group was made up of alumni and John Clements, Oxford’s director of finance at the university from 1995 to 2004, who is now a finance officer for People and Planet.

“We are bitterly disappointed about the university’s failure to come to a decision today,” Mr Clements said. “Oxford should be leading the move away from investment in all world-destroying fossil fuel companies to more sustainable forms of energy. In the long term these will prove a far better investment, as many finance sector leaders have already realised.”

Police attended the scene, but no action was taken against the protesters and they left the building voluntarily.

In another development, campaign organisers told Times Higher Education that some high-profile Oxford graduates, including comedian Josie Long and green activist Jeremy Leggett, are considering handing back their Oxford degrees if the institution does not divest.

“How much more time does Oxford University need to decide that investing in the #fossilfuels cooking the planet is immoral?” tweeted writer and Oxford alumni George Monbiot, who is calling on other graduates to hand back their degrees if the university fails to take action.


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