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Students occupy University of Edinburgh in wake of divestment let down

University of Edinburgh

University of Edinburgh. Creative Commons: 2012

Students are pushing back on the University of Edinburgh’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels, occupying the university’s management buildings.

On Tuesday (12 May), the university ignored the calls of students, staff and alumni calling for it to divest from dirty energy companies, sparking accusation that it had bowed to pressure from the fossil fuel industry.

The university has the third largest endowment in the UK, after Oxford and Cambridge, totalling £291 million.

It currently has around £9 million invested in fossil fuel companies including Total, Shell and BHP Billiton.

The move not to divest was passed on Monday at a meeting of the University Court – the highest decision-making body in the university – and goes against a recommendation made by the university’s Central Management Group in April which urged the university to divest from coal and tar sands.

The refusal has provoked a strong backlash from student campaigners, who had called on the University to follow in the footsteps of Glasgow, Bedfordshire and SOAS who have all committed to divest.

Internationally a total of 28 universities have moved their money out of fossil fuels.

Friends of the Earth Scotland finance campaigner Ric Lander said:

The University has missed a clear opportunity to take a moral lead on tackling climate change and stand up for environmental justice. The University appears content to have its money invested in the world’s most polluting companies including Shell, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. These companies are oil drilling in the Arctic and mining coal in virgin rainforest. Any investment policy which continues to allow investment in such irresponsible companies is not fit for purpose.

Occupying students have said they will remain in the University of Edinburgh buildings until it meets their original demands and to the full divestment from all fossil fuels and screening them out over a five year period.

In a statement, the students said:

We’re thoroughly disappointed with the University’s failure to commit to divestment from fossil fuels. Edinburgh came down firmly on the side of short-term economic interest, with little to no acknowledgement of the long-term repercussions of their investments.

The students have also argued that the process surrounding the decision to divest was un-transparent, and contrary to the will of the students and staff.

Kirsty Haigh, student campaigner with Edinburgh People & Planet, said:

Despite the university’s public consultation showing overwhelming support for fossil fuel divestment, the university has put money before climate science. Heads of the School of Engineering, in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, have been scaremongering throughout the process. Departments funded by the industry were over-represented on the investment advisory committee, whilst some schools had no representation whatsoever. 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.

The decision followed a three-year campaign calling on the university to end its relationship with fossil fuels.

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