Why would an institution at the forefront of research on the impacts of climate change choose to finance the very industry that is causing it?

Climate Change

Photo: UEA

Despite its aspiration to be “an exemplary low carbon campus”, Freedom of Information requests reveal that UEA has over £130,000 invested in fossil fuels. The companies that UEA finances – Shell, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – are engaged in some the most destructive projects in the world today, including coal mining in Indonesia, the Canadian tar sands and Arctic oil drilling.

The fossil fuel industry’s business plan is to burn five times more carbon dioxide than scientists say we can safely emit and still keep global warming below 2°C. Breaching this threshold would increase the likelihood of extreme weather events such as Cyclone Haiyan, the storm which recently devastated the Philippines and affected over 12 million people.

Fossil Free has been formed as a citizens’ response to circumvent government inertia and directly challenge the hegemony of dirty energy, getting institutions around the world to divest from fossil fuels. As climate campaigner Bill McKibben commented, “If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage”. By withdrawing funds, we aim to stigmatise the industry into changing its practices. Over 300 universities around the world have active divestment campaigns, and more than thirty institutions have already divested. Fossil Free claims the support of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has noted the parallels between our campaign and the divestment movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.

Alongside the moral imperative to act, there’s a strong financial case to be made for divestment. Analysts from Grantham Institute of the London School of Economics have warned that fossil fuel companies have been massively overvalued on the stock exchange, creating a ‘carbon bubble’; this is liable to burst as carbon-limiting market conditions are introduced. These conclusions are echoed by HSBC, PriceWaterHouseCoopers and others: fossil fuels are no longer a sound investment.

We believe it’s time for UEA to live up to its motto, “do different”, and become a true leader in the higher education sector. Consequently, we are calling on the university to:

1. Screen for and exclude the fossil fuel industry from their investment portfolio.
2. Immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies.
3. Divest from the fossil fuel industry and shift funds to lower risk, ethical investments within five years.

If you would like to get involved, please sign our petition at “Fossil Free UEA” on Facebook, or join the campaign team. Email union.environment@uea.ac.uk.