UK divestment movement heats up as Oxford rules out coal and tar sands investment


The divestment movement took another step forward this week, with the UK’s oldest university announcing it will exclude the most polluting fossil-fuel investments from its £3.8 billion endowment; one of the biggest in the country. Citing ethical grounds, the new policy commits the university to “avoid future investments in coal and tar sands”, following in the footsteps of other UK institutions distancing themselves from risky, climate-polluting fossil fuels, including Glasgow, Bedfordshire and SOAS universities and most recently the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine. The news also comes as the University of Washington became the latest high-profile US university to announce it would end its dirty relationship with coal. Oxford’s decision increases the pressure on institutions, such the University of Edinburgh, that continue to put polluters ahead of the views of their staff, students and alumni. Edinburgh students have been occupying a university building since Wednesday last week, in response to the its failure to make a commitment on divestment. Oxford’s announcement has been welcomed by students and academics as an important victory, but they say it is just the “first step towards a fully sustainable investment policy”, urging the university to go further and fully divest from all fossil fuels and increase transparency around its investments. This Saturday, over 70 Oxford alumni will hand back their degrees in protest of the university’s failure to fully divest, while over 850 alumni have pledged to withhold donations to the university until it makes such a commitment.


RT @peopleandplanet World leaders have studied under Oxford University’s spires. Today’s lesson – phase out coal & axe tar sands.


Key Points

  • The divestment campaign sends a clear message: It’s wrong to wreck the planet, and wrong to profit from that wreckage. Institutions moving away from dirty energy are heeding the warnings from the world’s leading scientists that large swathes fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid the worst climate impacts, as around the world people take to the streets to push institutions and governments to tackle the climate crisis. As world leaders prepare to sign a new global deal in Paris this December, divestment provides a means for citizens to challenge the social license of fossil fuel companies, take back power from the dirty energy industry and demand climate leadership.



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Key Quotes

  • “Council encourages OUem (Oxford Endowment Management) to maintain its rigorous assessment of potential investments across a number of risk criteria, particularly social and environmental impacts, alongside other investment criteria. Council recognises that OUem’s Governance Policy is designed to avoid investment in sectors with the highest environmental and social risks, leading to its present situation of no direct holdings in coal and oil sands companies – one of the key points in the OUSU representation. Council has asked OUem to maintain this position and avoid any future direct investments in coal and oil sands.” – University Council, Oxford statement
  • “Oxford may be the greatest university on our planet, and if anyone thought its great age might keep it from shaping the future, this decision should prove them wrong. Today it has offered great leadership on the crisis of our time.” – Bill McKibben, founder
  • “Many world leaders have studied under Oxford University’s spires. They should be taking notes today. The lesson is: it’s time to phase out coal and axe tar sands.” – Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free Campaigns Manager at People & Planet
  • “By excluding investments in coal and tar-sands extraction, the University of Oxford demonstrates that universities can carry out their academic mission while also acting with moral integrity in their investment choices.” – Dr Felix Pinkert Lecturer of Philosophy, University of Oxford
  • “When it comes to big oil this is a cautious first step. Tar sands need to be kept in the ground and universities should divest from any company digging them out. If you live in the shadow of tar sand extraction and your baby been air lifted to hospital after drinking the water after a spill, it doesn’t matter if under 10% of the culprit’s production comes from tar sands.” – Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free Campaigns Manager at People & Planet
  • “While we are pleased with today’s results, we as students feel that transparency is an issue within the university structures. Full disclosure of the university’s investments should only confirm what they have told us today.” – Cara Turton-Chambers, Oxford University Fossil Free student campaigner
  • ”With the decision today the university has taken a step forward, but not a big enough one. I, with others, have decided to hand back my degree, in protest. This is not just a question of integrity for me. I want to use the privilege having it gives me to try and shake things up; to use my power to draw attention to others.” – Sunniva Taylor, an Oxford alumna

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  • RT @nusuk @UniofOxford just voted to pull their money out of coal and tar sands. Well done to all the campaigners! Who will #divest next?
  • RT @billmckibben Unbelievable. Oxford starts to divest. Oldest university in English speaking world
  • RT @rvlandberg Oxford University limits its Fossil Fuel investments, adding weight to the divestment movement