Soas becomes first London university to divest from fossil fuels

Campaigners hail success as Soas follows in footsteps of Glasgow and Bedfordshire universities, and calls on other universities to follow suit

by Emma Howard via

Soas University of London has become the first university in the capital and the third in the UK to commit to pulling its investments out of fossil fuels, in what campaigners called a historic decision.

On Friday, the institution announced it would divest the £1.5m of its £32m endowment held in oil and gas companies over the next three years to show leadership on climate change. The university has no investments in coal.

The decision rules out future investments in fossil fuels and was approved by the school’s governing body, following an 18-month campaign involving more than 1,000 students and staff. On Monday, 63 Soas staff wrote to the university’s management, backing divestment.

Professor Paul Webley, Director of Soas, said: “Soas is proud to become the first university in London to divest and we hope more universities will follow suit. Divestment from fossil fuels will enable Soas to fulfil its responsibilities as an ethical investor, while continuing to ensure that the school’s investments deliver a financial return.”

The university becomes the third in the UK to commit to fossil fuel divestment – following Glasgow and Bedfordshire – as part of a fast-growing global movement.In the US, Syracuse university and the New School in New York are divesting, while Stanford is moving out of coal. More than 220 institutions have now made commitments, including faith organisations, pension funds, philanthropic foundations and local authorities.

Julia Christian, a campaigner Fossil Free Soas, said: “We are so proud to be Soas students, staff and alumni today. The fossil fuel industry is a thing of the past. This is a historic decision, part of a shifting tide away from fossil fuels that is happening across the world as we speak.”

Andrew Taylor, campaigns manger at People & Planet, which supports university divestment campaigns across the UK, said: “If you are interested in studying environmental or social justice issues at a university that definitely won’t be investing your fees in wrecking the climate, then Soas must now be one of the top places to do it. Universities that continue to say no to divestment are eroding their legitimacy to teach about sustainability.”

In March, the Guardian launched a campaign calling on the world’s two largest charitable foundations to divest from fossil fuels. It asks the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to move their money out of the top 200 fossil fuel companies and to immediately freeze any new investments. More than 187,000 people have signed the petition. The Guardian Media Group has sinceannounced it will divest from oil, coal and gas companies.

Scientific research shows that in order to meet international targets to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, the majority of proven fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. In October, Mark Carney, governor at the Bank of England, warned that “the vast majority of reserves are unburnable”, lending weight to the theory that fossil fuel assets could become worthless and create a trillion dollar risk to the global economy.