UCL to divest from fossil fuels and switch to meat-free catering

London university also plans ban on single-use plastic and creation of new green spaces

October 17, 2019
UCL sign

UCL has announced that it will divest from fossil fuels, in a victory for campaigners that was accompanied by the announcement of a string of other measures, including a shift to meat-free catering.

UCL said on 17 October that it would not invest in fossil fuels as of the end of this year and that it would make its portfolio of investments publicly available, following a long-running campaign by students who called for divestment. UCL currently has around £800,000 invested in fossil fuels, around 0.5 per cent of its total investments.

Launching a new sustainability strategy, the university added that, by 2024, all its buildings will be net zero carbon, single-use plastic will be banned on campus, and an additional 10,000 square metres of biodiversity space will be created via “green walls”, brown roofs and pocket gardens. All students will have the opportunity to study and be involved in sustainability.

By 2030, UCL as a whole aims to be net zero carbon, to generate all of its renewable energy, and to introduce 100 per cent vegetarian catering for events.

UCL’s move follows a similar announcement earlier this year by Goldsmiths, University of London, which said that it would ban the sale of beef on campus and introduce a 10p levy on bottled water and single-use plastic cups to discourage their use. Goldsmiths also said that it would no longer hold investments in companies that generated more than 10 per cent of their revenue from extracting fossil fuels.

Michael Arthur, UCL’s president, said universities “have a responsibility to lead change for environmental and social sustainability”.

“By being proactive, we can mobilise our staff and students and inspire the next generation of young adults to change the world,” Professor Arthur said. “By doing so, we will play our part in catalysing the broad changes we need to create a sustainable future for people and planet.”

UCL said that it had already cut its carbon emissions by 27 per cent over the past decade.

People and Planet, a student organisation, has been campaigning for many years for universities to go “fossil-free”. However, in 2019, only 19 institutions were awarded full marks by the People and Planet University League for explicitly screening out all fossil fuels in their ethical investment policies this year. According to the group, only a third of UK universities are on track to meet their carbon reduction targets in 2020.

Geraint Rees, chair of the UCL sustainability steering group, said that using UCL’s research, “we will make our campus the showcase of how a city centre global institution can operate within planetary limits”.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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