COP21: UEA Students ‘Hack’ University Campus ahead of Paris Climate Talks

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Students at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have set-up a ‘hack’ camp occupying  outside the Vice Chancellor’s office over the University’s continued investments in the fossil fuel industry. UEA a world leader in climate research currently holds over £130,000 worth of shares in in fossil fuel companies including Shell and Rio Tinto.

The ‘hack’ camp has been set-up with an eye to UEAs controversial part in the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen, when climate skeptics used the leaked email exchanges between leading climate scientists to discredit research supporting human-made global warming. After a two and half year-long inquiry the scientists were cleared of any misconduct, but police could not identify the hacker as the attack was ‘highly sophisticated and carefully planned’. Students hope that this symbolic action will pressure the university to ‘stand on the right side of history’.

Union of UEA Students Campaigns & Democracy Officer Chris Jarvis said: “Just before the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, hackers leaked emails that were used by climate deniers to discredit the need for action on climate change. UEA was right to stand up for its scientists then, but is now taking the side of a fossil fuel industry lobbying for a weak deal that allows then to put profits before our future.”

Student have occupied after UEA repeatedly ignored two years of calls from students, staff and alumni for it to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The widely-backed campaign has seen over 1,000 students petitioning UEA, 100 academics signing an open letter to senior managers calling for divestment and numerous demonstrations, actions and stunts.

Union of UEA Students Campaigns & Democracy Officer Chris Jarvis also said: “With the UN Climate Summit in Paris round the corner, UEA should join the rapidly growing divestment movement calling for meaningful action on climate change. After two years of campaigning, we have been left with no other choice but to use our bodies to stop the university from ignoring our call for UEA to stand on the right side of history and divest from fossil fuels.”

The fossil fuel industry has historically been a key funder of lobby groups misrepresenting climate change research. A coalition of over 40 climate campaigning groups, including 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, have called for big polluters to be kicked out of the COP21 climate talks.

Naia Lopez, the Fossil Free campaign coordinator at People & Planet said: “Divestment campaigns challenge the power that the fossil fuel industry has been holding over climate change policy for years. UEA should divest in from the past and reinvest in a low-carbon future before COP21. Given the key research UEA has conducted into climate science it ridiculous that bureaucrats at the uni are still refusing to join the global call for genuine and just solutions to the climate crisis.”

Last week an open letter signed by over fifty groups was sent to every university Vice Chancellor and Principle in the UK inviting them to divest from the fossil fuel industry, who they state ‘maintain a powerful grip on the negotiation process’ at the COP21 climate talks. The letter went onto say ‘you can listen to our call and divest from fossil fuel companies before COP21 or make the political decision to invest in an industry that has done the most to cause climate change and threaten human life.’

To date $2.6 trillion has been committed to divestment from fossil fuels worldwide. Three weeks ago the University of Surrey became the eight UK universities committed to divest from fossil fuels, joining University of London SOAS, the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Warwick, Oxford University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of Bedfordshire. Decisions are expected soon at LSE and Sheffield universities.