A petition has been launched calling on the University Court to divest all of its investments in fossil fuel extracting companies, following a growing trend amongst UK Universities.
The petition, launched by student-led group Fossil Free St Andrews, calls on the University to immediately cease new investments in fossil fuel companies, and to dispose of all of its existing investments within three years. Moreover, it also calls for an expansion of the University’s promotion and use of renewable technologies.
St Andrews already has a long history of sustainable investment, following a 2006 campaign which led to it signing the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment agreement. This involved the University divesting its holdings in arms companies and reducing the amount invested in fossil fuels. The petition’s organisers are now arguing that the harmful effects of climate change make full divestment a logical next step.
Divestment has been a growing trend amongst other UK Universities. Most notably, in 2014 the Court of the University of Glasgow voted to divest £18 million of fossil fuel holdings. The petition’s organisers aim to gain support from the SRC, and hand the petition to the University Court in June.
Commenting to The Saint on the motives behind their petition, Fossil Free St Andrews said: “Anthropogenic climate change is a clear and pressing threat to humanity and our planet’s biodiversity. The burning of fossil fuels has been scientifically proven to contribute to this and there is a global need to mitigate further environmental damage.
“As a university, St Andrews has led the way in sustainable investments.
“The University has removed its investments from arms manufacturers and significantly reduced the amount invested in fossil fuels.
“However, this does not go far enough. The current policy still permits investment in fossil fuel extraction companies which is of grave concern.
“By investing in fossil fuel companies, no matter how much money is implicated, the University is directly profiting from climate change.
“We believe that by removing all investments from fossil fuels, the University will be able to fulfil its desires to become economically and environmentally sustainable across the board, while renewing its commitment to mitigating catastrophic climate change.
“Through this action our University can live up to its global reputation and prove that when it comes to sustainability, our motto ‘Ever to Excel’ rings true.”
The group also went on to explain why they chose to pursue this course of action, “We took inspiration from the fossil fuel divestment movements at other universities across the world, mostly notably from our colleagues at the University of Glasgow.
“We had assumed that since there was no such action in St Andrews, that we were already fully divested from fossil fuels given our track record for positive sustainable investments. However, after checking the most recent figures in January this year we were shocked to find out the University was investing in fossil fuel companies. We wanted to share this information with our fellow students and staff and decided to start a petition calling on our University Court to divest, which has been warmly received and widely shared.”
However, the group do acknowledge the significant strides the University has made in reducing the amount of fossil fuels that it uses, “St Andrews has embraced sustainable development in its research and operations; it was the first in the UK to introduce a teaching programme in Sustainable Development in 2004 and boasts a host of environmental and research institutes such as as the St Andrews Sustainability Institute (SASI) whilst rewarding the foremost global research with the St Andrews Prize for the Environment.”
Continuing, the group stated, “The University has supported the community electric car club and has started to use electric vehicles itself across various operational unit.
“This is all after mentioning, of course, the valuable contributions to sustainable energy from the Guardbridge Energy Centre and the proposed windfarm at Kenly, which together will mean our University will be carbon neutral for energy, possibly the first in the UK. No mean feat in our opinions.
“We wholeheartedly support these efforts towards increased sustainability but we also believe they show the pressing need for divestment here in St Andrews.
“We do not wish to see our University accused of hypocrisy on its pledge to become carbon neutral for energy, which could happen if it continues to invest in fossil fuels abroad.
“Our University has demonstrated its commitment towards sustainable development and as students we believe that our petition will allow us to work constructively with the University Court to remove all funds from fossil fuel companies.
“A pledge from the University will allow us to turn our back on such companies; ultimately we believe our University must never again invest in fossil fuels.
The group is optimistic of success, noting that the petition already had over 400 signatures at the time of writing, saying: “We believe that the petition is a clear demonstration of student and staff support, which we believe will attract support from the Student Representative Council and the University Court.
“Many members of our University feel as we do and this petition is a great reflection of that.”
In response, a spokesman for the University told The Saint: “The University of St Andrews is committed to investing its funds in line with our stated desire to be sustainable and promote sustainability.
“As evidence of this commitment, the University has become a signatory member of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment initiative.”
The statement continued, saying: “Protection of the global environment, its climate and its biodiversity, is enshrined as a key consideration in all our financial decision-making as we work towards becoming the UK’s first carbon-neutral university.”
Fossil Free St Andrews’ petition is to be presented to the UniversityCourt in June, and can be found at https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/divest-st-andrews.