‘Defiant’ Edinburgh University backs fossil fuels

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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STUDENTS have reacted with outrage after Edinburgh University announced it will not stop sinking millions of pounds into oil, gas and coal firms.

The decision comes despite a three-year campaign by students, staff and graduates to persuade the institution to move away from investing in climate-polluting industries.

The move was passed by the university court based on a report by the Fossil Fuels Review Group, which recommended divesting from companies involved in carbon-intensive fuels such as coal or tar sands where greener alternatives exist of where efforts to reduce emissions are not in place.

It goes against the views of 50 academics from the university, who recently wrote to the principal calling for the institution to cut fossil fuels and the arms trade from its £300 million portfolio - the largest of any university in Scotland and the third-largest in the UK.

But a report for the 430-year-old institution states that “full divestment could – and likely would – be seen as calling into question the appropriateness of teaching about fossil fuel exploration, and the appropriateness of carrying out research on means of exploitation of fossil fuel resources”.

The university’s decision to continue investing around £9m of its £291m endowment in fossil fuel companies has provoked a significant backlash from student campaigners.

They have accused the establishment of a conflict of interests and ignoring “the most urgent threat the world is facing”.

The university is putting “money before climate science”, according to Kirsty Haigh, an activist with environmental group Edinburgh People & Planet and vice-president of the National Union of Students Scotland.

“Heads of the school of engineering, in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, have been scaremongering throughout the process,” she said.

“Climate change is the most urgent threat the world is facing, and today’s announcement tells us the university is not taking it seriously enough.”

But senior vice-principal Professor Charlie Jeffery insisted the university would use “the leverage of our investments” to encourage businesses in which it invests to cut emissions. “The university will continue to take its lead through our research, teaching and knowledge exchange, and helping society to understand, manage and reduce climate risks,” he said.

Climate campaigners expressed their disappointment at the news, which comes after Glasgow University became the first academic institution in

Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry last October.

Friends of the Earth Scotland finance campaigner Ric Lander said: “The university has missed a clear opportunity to take a moral lead.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “To protect our climate, the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned and in the ground.”

Freedom of information requests revealed that Edinburgh’s geosciences department has received funding, grants and gifts of money from a range of fossil fuel companies while many staff members maintained links with the industry.