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Half of all UK universities commit to divesting from fossil fuels

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79 universities in the UK have agreed to divest from fossil fuels.

A major campaign urging UK universities and colleges to break ties with the fossil fuel industry has reached a major milestone: over half of all institutions in the country have committed their support.

A recent update from student-led campaign group People & Planet showed that 79 of the country’s 154 public universities have joined the movement, either divesting or pledging to divest a total of £12 billion from fossil fuel.

Campaigners say this is a major breakthrough in the campaign that will deal a significant blow to the “social licence” of big oil.

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“That universities across the sector are now divesting so fully and quickly demonstrates how far the fossil fuel industry’s social license has been eroded over the last seven years. 

“It is increasingly common sense on UK campuses that these companies can play no productive role in solving the climate crisis,” People & Planet’s Chris Saltmarsh said in The Guardian.

The institutions that have chosen not to pledge their commitment, he said, would come under heavy fire.

“Universities not yet divested can now choose to stand with their students on the right side of history or be forever known as complicit in the crimes of climate breakdown.”

The past few years have seen the climate action movement gather pace across the world. While screaming headlines and frightening stories about a planet dying way too soon sparked fears, unusual and disastrous climate events launched people into action.

And among the loudest voices of the world’s biggest climate champions have come from students. 

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In the UK, student groups like People & Planet have lobbied long and hard for universities to remove their investment funds from fossil fuel companies, saying their commitment to sustainability and any other planet-friendly measures is only meaningful if they don’t gain any kind of benefit from the industry.

Their argument is this: If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.

UK universities and colleges, they point out, support the fossil fuel industry directly through their research, their £5.2 billion investments in fossil fuel companies and their partnerships with some of the worst-offending companies in the world like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell.

This should end, they say.

“No UK university or college in their right mind would accept funding from or invest their funds in tobacco companies these days – it’s inconsistent with their research on cancer. 

“The same holds true for fossil fuel companies causing climate change and yet most universities and colleges still do not recognise this. That’s changing!” the group says on their website.

Their demands of universities are threefold: to exclude the fossil fuel industry from their investment portfolio; to introduce publicly accessible ethical investment policy excluding the fossil fuel industry; and a commitment to full divestment within three years.

A full list of the UK universities that have committed to the campaign can be assessed here.