The rate at which UK public universities are abandoning investments in fossil fuels has accelerated during the past few years, and now more than half have either divested or pledged to divest from the fossil fuel industry, according to student-led campaign group People & Planet.
The group said 79 of the UK’s 154 public universities, as well as two universities in Ireland, have joined the fossil fuel divestment campaign and have committed to divest an estimated $14.3 billion from fossil fuels in some form. Divestment has become a key feature of environmental, social, and governance investing, or ESG.
The divestment crusade started in 2014 when Glasgow University committed to fully divest $23.5 million from fossil fuel companies over the next 10 years, and another 13 universities followed suit the following year. Another 20 universities made promises to divest in 2016, 14 more made divestment commitments in 2017, and another 30 pledged to divest in 2018 and 2019. Earlier this month, Aberystwyth University became the 79th university when it committed to full divestment.
The activist group’s aim is for all educational institutions to “exclude the fossil fuel industry from their investment portfolio, introduce publicly accessible ethical investment policy excluding the fossil fuel industry. ” It seeks full divestment by the universities within three years.
“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,” Chris Saltmarsh, People & Planet’s co-director, climate change campaigns, told the Guardian newspaper. “It is increasingly common sense on UK campuses that these companies can play no productive role in solving the climate crisis.”
The UK is among the more progressive countries divesting from the fossil fuel industry, and not just because of its university students. Last May more than 250 current and former members of the UK’s Parliament called for their pension fund, the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund (PCPF), to disclose its carbon-intensive investment, and to quickly phase out fossil fuel investments.
In 2018 the Church of England voted to divest £12 billion in holdings of fossil fuel companies if they are not fighting global warming quickly enough. The Church said that oil and gas companies that have not aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2023 will see divestment from the $10.9 billion Church Commissioners investment fund, the Church’s $3 billion retirement fund, and an additional $2.6 billion in other Church funds.