The University of Bristol, after extensive talks, announced today that it will withdraw all £700,000 of its investment from the fossil fuel industry. Moving from partial to full divestment is a big step forward for the university, with plans being put in place to ditch all fossil fuel companies from its investment portfolio over the next couple of years.
Bristol is the 10th Russell Group university and 62nd UK university to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry, following in the footsteps of Edinburgh last month. The People & Planet-led Fossil Free campaign has held an active society in Bristol since 2014, and had already achieved huge success – last year, the university pledged to divest from all companies who derived more than 5% of their revenue from the fossil fuel industry by 2018, bringing investments down considerably. The University of Bristol could also become the first Russell Group university to complete the process of full divestment, with officials projecting that this could potentially be achieved by 2020.
Robert Kerse, Finance Director for the university, said “We’ve made a commitment to completely withdraw our investment from companies which support the fossil fuel industry by March 2020. It’s an ambitious timescale but we realise the importance of swift action to combat climate change.”
The 2017 agreement also promised the investment of £3 million in a ‘green’ fund, as well as a ‘material reduction’ in investments in coal and tar sands. However, this was small fry for the university’s Fossil Free society. Since September 2017, they have made it clear that nothing but full divestment would be acceptable to the students of Bristol.
Papatya O’Reilly, Fossil Free society president, said ‘It fills me with pride to know that our University is playing its part in the Fossil Free movement. So many institutions have divested now that it has become mainstream, yet its impact is undeniable. Divesting is a powerful way of showing solidarity with frontline communities, whose exposure to fossil fuels takes its daily toll on their crops, health, and liberty. Now, we call on all other Universities to follow Bristol’s lead. Join us in preventing climate destruction, in moving our economics and culture towards a sustainable future, and in ensuring a just transition for those bearing the brunt.’ Papatya will be graduating with an undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy this year, and will go on to work as a Trustee for People & Planet.
Green Councillor Carla Denyer, who first tabled a motion calling for divestment to the university’s advisory body, the University of Bristol Court, back in 2015 said:
“After years of campaign work from students, staff, politicians and alumni it’s fantastic to see a real commitment to full divestment from Bristol University. It just goes to show the impact that ordinary people can have through acting together and keeping up the pressure on big institutions.”
“I am proud to live in a city where, because of the hard campaign work of so many people, both our Council and the University of Bristol have committed to fossil fuel divestment. Following this success, Green Councillors will also continue to focus on increasing the pressure on the Avon Pension Fund to follow suit and commit to full divestment too.”
The move to full divestment from the university administration came as something of a surprise; up until recently, Bristol held the position that it would be capable of having influence over the inner workings of energy companies as shareholders – in other words, the financial department seemed to think it would be able to persuade such companies to invest in green energy from the inside. However, following action taken by Bristol students representing the Fossil Free movement, this position was understood to be untenable.
People & Planet’s Fossil Free Campaigns Coordinator, Chris Saltmarsh, said ‘Bristol's full divestment after a powerful student campaign is another hammer blow to the fossil fuel industry haemorrhaging its social license to operate. 2018 has already seen Huddersfield, Sussex, Edinburgh, Anglia Ruskin, Durham and Cardiff divest millions from this terminally declining rogue industry. It's time for our banks like Barclays and the UK Government to take our students' and universities' lead and exile fossil fuels from our economic and political life."
This latest university divestment is proof of an ever-growing divestment movement throughout the UK, and an approaching end to the suffocating fossil fuel industry.
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Green Councillors have submitted a motion to next Tuesday’s Full Council meeting (19 March) calling on Bristol’s Labour Mayor to meet with the head of Avon Pension Fund and discuss divestment of funds away from fossil fuel industries within 5 years. Despite a similar Green motion passed in 2015 (1), the Avon Pension Fund continues to hold significant investments in fossil fuel industries. A recent UN study found that resource extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss. (2) Bristol’s branch of local government union UNISON (the second largest union in the UK) also backs the campaign for pension fund divestment.
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