David Richardson, the UEA vice-chancellor, has responded to an open letter signed by almost 100 UEA academics calling for the university to divest from its financial connections with fossil fuel companies. The open letter describes the university “a pioneer of environmentally responsible policy and practice” but it insists that the institution “must also look to ensure that its investments are socially responsible”.
The four fossil fuel companies UEA currently holds investments in are BHP Billiton, Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group and Rio Tinto., which were revealed in a response to a Freedom of Information request dated 12th of May. The academics’ open letter holds that further investment in these businesses is “logically and morally incompatible with the view UEA has on sustainability”.
The Fossil Free UEA campaign has been running for over a year and a half and this letter is the latest step in a long series of demonstrations by this group of student activists. Over 1,000 students have also called for ties to the fossil fuel industry to be cut.
The vice-chancellor’s response states that he and other Executive Team members do not believe that “withdrawing UEA’s investment from the organisations mentioned will make a marked difference to the issue at hand.” He describes himself as proud of the contribution which UEA makes to climate change research. His own academic research at UEA has been focused on “understanding and mitigating nitrous oxide production by bacteria and harnessing microbes in energy generation from waste”.
The response from the students’ union came from Chris Jarvis, the Campaigns and Democracy Officer, who stated that: “UEA is once again failing to take effective action to address the real and pressing danger posed by runaway climate change.” He describes the university’s actions as “continuing to directly fund fossil fuels… and offering the industry a social license to operate and therefore refusing to take its responsibility to act to mitigate climate change seriously”. Finally he discussed the recent successes of other fossil free campaigns and states that “UEA and the Student Union will continue to campaign for the university to divest from fossil fuels”.