Glasgow University has become the first UK university to vote to divest from the fossil fuel industry, after the university court concluded that investing in polluting firms is unsustainable.
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After months of student-led campaigning, the university decided on Wednesday to ditch its £18 million holdings in fossil fuel firms such as Shell and BP and will freeze new investments across its endowment.
A growing movement has called on investors of all classes to divest from oil, coal and gas firms because of the massive environmental impact that such companies have.
A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report concluded that carbon-intensive energy production was the single biggest contributor to global warming.
Energy companies continue to search for new fossil fuels reserves, despite warnings that 80% of the reserves already identified must never be used if dangerous climate tipping points are to be avoided.
The movement, which begun in the US, has found traction around the world, with some UK churches and councils recently pledging their support. However, Glasgow becomes the UK’s first academic institution to sign up, marking a major landmark for the campaign.
American environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of the climate campaign group 350.org, said the vote is “a dramatic beachhead for the divestment movement.
“That it comes from Glasgow, which has as much claim to birthing the industrial revolution as any city on earth, makes it that much more special,” he said.
Aside from the ethical case, there is also a strong financial case for divestment. If policies are introduced to ensure that the majority of fossil fuel reserves that cannot be burnt remain buried, the assets of fossil fuel firms would be severely devalued – becoming ‘stranded assets’ – according to the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, a pioneer in the field.
“Not only is this great news for the planet, but it also makes good financial sense,” commented Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church.
“There are five times as many fossil fuels on the balance sheets of big energy companies as climate science tells us it is safe to burn, so at some point this carbon bubble is going to have to burst.
“We hope the forward thinking action of Glasgow University today will set an example to public and education institutions across the UK to follow suit.”
Photo: 350.org via Flickr