Students and academics delivered the letter to management as part of an ongoing campaign which has seen 1,000 students petition the university and continued lobbying from the students’ union.
The academics, including 24 from the School of Environmental Sciences, claim that UEA’s continued investment in fossil fuel companies such as Rio Tinto and Shell is “logically and morally incompatible with the view UEA has on sustainability and the positive actions taken to ensure sound environmental practice”.
“As an institution committed to sustainability, to continue to provide financial and therefore reputational support to the very industry most responsible for driving the climate crisis appears incongruous,” the letter continues.
The campaigners point out that UEA has “demonstrated historically” its willing to screen investments that it deems to be unethical, saying that in 2001, the university ended its investments in the arms trade, and that the institution has “not invested in tobacco for some time, not because such investments would not be profitable, but instead because the university has recognised that to invest in such industries is to offer tacit support to them”.
Chris Jarvis, campaigns and democracy officer at the Union of UEA Students, said the time had come for UEA to “take clear and decisive action”.
“Unless UEA ends its links with the fossil fuel industry, its reputation as a pioneer of sustainability, both in terms of research and practice, will begin to dissipate, as more and more people realise that it can talk the talk, but fails to walk the walk,” he said.
A spokeswoman for UEA said the institution had made an “extensive and sustained contribution” to climate change research. “Our researchers are at the frontline in the search for future energy systems based on renewable sources,” she said, adding that the institution’s Low Carbon Innovation Fund invests “millions each year in companies developing low carbon technologies”.
“We do not believe that withdrawing UEA’s limited investment from fossil fuel companies will make an effective contribution to the overwhelming necessity to reduce energy consumption, increase carbon capture, develop sustainable low carbon energy sources and mitigate the extent of global warming and the effects of climate change,” the spokeswoman added.
Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh is writing to three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers to inform them that it intends to fully divest from their activities within the next six months, following a decision by its Investment Committee.
Charlie Jeffery, the university’s senior vice-principal, said the action was an “important next step” in a process that began when policy changes were agreed by Edinburgh’s ruling body. That decision had led to a sit-in by students at the institution.
The three companies, which the university says it cannot identify for reasons of confidentiality, have four weeks to respond to the letter.
The University of Glasgow, the University of Bedfordshire and Soas, University of London have already announced plans to divest from fossil fuels, and it is expected that other universities will follow suit.