Fossil fools or green giants?

Despite being one of the pioneering universities in terms of environmental consciousness, describing itself as an “exemplary low carbon campus”, UEA is still to fully divest, with around £130,000 invested in fossil fuel companies such as Shell and Rio Tinto.

The international organisation Fossil Free have previously urged the university to withdraw such investments in an open letter to professor David Richardson which gained over 1000 signatures, claiming it has “a responsibility to divest from an industry that’s destroying our future”.

The letter also set out a four step plan it believed could help the uni achieve this, including the rejection of sponsorship and advertising from unethical companies, and the implementing of a stricter investment policy to project both human right and the environment.

Pressure for change has also been internal. In 2015, 95 academics signed an open letter calling for divestment, labelling the university’s fossil fuel links as “logically and morally incompatible” to any progressive environmental action.

Over the past few years, a number of student led campaigns have also taken place, including a sit in protest in which students occupied the area outside the Vice Chancellor’s office, and a ‘die- in’- involving protestors lying on the ground of a public space and ‘playing dead’ for dramatic effect – held outside the registery building.

A spokesperson for environmental group People and the Planet was quoted at the time remarking that by organising such events, “students at UEA are sending a clear message to the university administration that they will not allow the university to remain complicit in the climate crisis”.

The university however has called for those concerned to look at the bigger picture. A spokesperson made a statement responding to student and staff complaints that “we do not believe withdrawing UEA’s limited investment from fossil fuel companies will make an effective contribution [to reducing the global effects of climate change]”.

Instead, the uni drew attention to the climate change research projects being funded in part by such investments, stating “researchers are at the frontline in the search for future energy systems based on renewable sources” and adding that the Low Carbon Innovation Fund invests “millions each year” into low carbon technologies.

While many may remain sceptical as to the truth behind these statements, it is clear that many attempts to cut fossil fuel consumption can be seen around the campus itself, in projects such as the student led Carbon Crew, and most prominently, the newly built Enterprise Centre.

An Adapt Low Carbon Group design, the building meets the highest energy and environmental standards, and is certainly an impressive statement that UEA does at least have some dedication to reducing its carbon footprint.


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January 2022
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