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A narrow defeat but not the end of the road for divestment campaign

A campaign calling for Bristol University to withdraw its investment in fossil fuels is gaining pace. A motion1 to the University Court – the University’s advisory body – advising the University to gradually phase out its financial support for the industries causing climate change was only narrowly defeated by 6 votes.

The motion from Green Party Councillor Carla Denyer; “Court advises Council to develop a plan for the university to gradually phase out its investments in fossil fuels over a five year period”, fell by 71 votes against, with 65 for, after she proposed the motion and gave a speech2 at the Court’s annual meeting on Friday 27th November 2015.

Carla said: “I am gutted that my motion fell, but it’s not the end. The Court is only an advisory body to University of Bristol Council who we hope will take a different view. The closeness of the vote shows that fossil fuel divestment is a hot topic and members are fairly evenly divided. The Vice-Chancellor told student campaigners to expect a decision in early 2016.” 

“As the COP 21 international climate talks start in Paris, where Bristol is being represented by amongst others my fellow Green Councillor Daniella Radice, I am pleased that so many members of the Court got behind my motion.”

As costs fall for renewable energy, investment returns have steadily improved over the last few years and are expected to achieve grid parity with fossil fuel energy by 2020 (according to UBS and Citibank3), with many fuel reserves likely to become unexploitable ‘stranded assets’. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England recently highlighted that “financing the decarbonisation of our economy” was a major opportunity for long-term investors4

Chris McMahon, Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Bristol said: "I have been collecting signatures from University staff for a letter6 supporting the student campaign to divest, and it is clear that there is support from across the University.  Carla made the point in her speech that the University’s existing Ethical Investment Policy5 prohibits it from investing in companies that are at odds with the wider aims and objectives of the University.  Given the important scientific work of the Cabot Institute and the University's Green Capital pledges, this strongly supports the divestment position."

In addition, more than 2000 students signed a petition7 earlier this year calling on Bristol to follow the examples of Oxford and Edinburgh Universities which are already divesting from fossil fuel companies.

 

Notes

  1. Motion attached
  2. Speech attached
  3. http://www.energypost.eu/ubs-citigroup-warn-investors-massive-revolution-energy-industry/
  4. http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2015/844.aspx
  5. University’s Ethical Investment Policy, p13 of http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/university/documents/governance/Item%205%20-%20Annual%20Report%20and%20Financial%20Statements.pdf
  6. Staff letter: http://cabot-institute.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/divestment-at-university-of-bristol.html
  7. Student petition: https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/university-of-bristol-divest-from-the-fossil-fuel-industry

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