1 Dec 2023 15:12, Climate Team

Today, five UK universities have ended fossil fuel industry investments. Liverpool John Moores University, Norwich University of the Arts, the University of Chichester, the University of Salford and the University of West London all divested from fossil fuels by incorporating industry exclusions into their Ethical Investment Policies. 108 UK universities are now committed to divest from fossil fuels, representing almost 72% of the sector.

These five Fossil Free victories were uncovered by 2023-24 People & Planet University League research. The People & Planet University League is the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance. The 2023-24 dataset is due to be launched imminently.

These five commitments are notable as Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Chichester and the University of West London are post-92 universities, and Norwich University of the Arts is both a post-92 and small and specialist university. Post-92 universities are newer universities, given either university status through the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 or the status of a university without royal charter since 1992. Small and specialist universities are universities that have fewer than 5000 students and include institutions focused on education and expertise in one particular specialism.

Universities of these classifications have been slower to commit to fossil fuel divestment than their research-intensive Russell Group university counter-parts. This is because unlike the Russell Group they usually have minimal investments in the fossil fuel industry - if they hold any investments at all - as well as less capacity and resource to update policies. Fossil Free commitments from the Russell Group currently stand at 23 out of 24 institutions. By comparison this is 53 of 75 and 11 of 26 for post-92 and small and specialist universities respectively. The announcements from these institutions today sets the stage for further post-92 and small and specialist university commitments.

The Fossil Free campaign demands the fossil fuel industry is excluded from university investments as an act of solidarity with those on the frontlines of both the global climate crisis and fossil fuel extraction projects. Campaigners intend to maintain pressure on the 43 UK universities yet to divest, by highlighting how significantly behind the curve they now are. Universities under pressure include the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, where student campaigners have been demanding divestment for the past five years.

Laura Clayson, Climate Campaigns Manager at People & Planet, said: “Any commitment to exclude the fossil fuel industry is incredible, but to celebrate five simultaneously at this stage of the campaign is unreal. It shows that Fossil Free is working. That is it mainstream. That it is a necessary act for any university who speaks to being committed to justice. That solidarity with communities on the frontlines of climate crisis and fossil fuel extractor projects can be enacted regardless of your university classification. We expect every UK university to commit to Fossil Free and we look forward to the University of Strathclyde being the next.”

Rob Harding, Director of Student Recruitment and Marketing at Norwich University of the Arts, said: "Norwich University of the Arts is committed to combating global climate change and promoting environmental sustainability. Our Responsible Investment Policy explicitly identifies the exclusion of investments in companies whose primary business is extracting, purifying, and storing fossil fuels. This ethical and sustainable approach reflects our commitment and that of our students to creating a positive environmental impact and financial principles that support a greener and sustainable future."

Izzy Page, Student’s Union President at the University of Chichester said: “University of Chichester is a small but mighty institution and making the commitment to divest from fossil fuels is a proud moment for us all but also proves the continuous collaboration between the University and Students' Union. This is just one of the many steps in the right direction to better our planet and I am proud that sustainable conversations are consistently happening between University of Chichester, the Students' Union and the local council, striving to a green future for us all. Thank you to all those involved whether that's students, staff or governors - it has been a combined effort to achieve this!”

Julie Charge, Director of Finance at the University of Salford, said: “As part of our commitment to limiting the impact of climate change, we have worked with our advisors to update our ethical investment policy so that we now actively screen out investments in companies involved in explicit environmental damage, such as organisations involved in the production and distribution of fossil fuels."

Dr Suresh Gamlath, Pro Vice Chancellor (Business Development) at the University of West London, said: "The University of West London is committed to taking action on climate change while addressing critical economic and social issues. The University's investment policy is guided by ethical values and the need to manage environmental, social and governance risks. We are committed to reinvesting in sustainability projects in our community and on campus. It is in the interest of our students and people everywhere that we work together towards a more sustainable future for ourselves and for future generations yet to come."

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