University of Leeds rejects calls to divest from fossil fuels

The University of Leeds announced on Thursday that it would reject students’ calls for it to bring an end to its investments in companies responsible for the extraction of fossil fuels such as BP and Shell.

Last November, students voted overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal for Leeds University Union to lobby the University to divest from fossil fuels when it was put to a campus-wide vote. Of the 1,905 students who voted, 1,554 voted in support of the motion, with only 335 opposed, and 16 abstaining. A referendum must be voted on by at least 1,500 students for it to reach the quorum and thus be considered a legitimate result. Students voting in support of the motion alone accounted for more than the turnout necessary for the referendum to reach the quorum, leading to concerns that the University’s decision reject the student body’s decision undermines the potential for student-led change.

A statement provided to The Gryphon by a University of Leeds spokesperson has said: “The University is committed to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“We believe we can most effectively do this through teaching, and through research to reduce emissions from the use of fossil fuels and develop alternative energy sources.

“After very careful consideration, the Council concluded that widespread divestment at this time would not effectively support the University’s commitment to a low-carbon future. Widespread divestment may disadvantage some of the world’s most vulnerable nations – the developing world has few alternatives to fossil fuels – and we need to invest in supportive and solution-driven climate research.

“The University will keep the position under review, while continuing to encourage its investment managers to press fossil fuel companies to take greater environmental responsibility and through profiling the world-leading climate research of the Priestley Centre.”

The University’s relationship with companies extracting fossil fuels is substantial. An investigation carried out by The Gryphon earlier this year uncovered that as of 31 May 2015, investments in such companies equated to 3.24% of the University’s investment portfolio of £65,015,550, totalling £2,104,554. Oil and gas giant, BP, also donated £700,00 to the University between 2009 and 2012.

Many of these companies have previously faced allegations of misconduct in developing nations that many of their operations are based in.  A BBC investigation in 2012 claimed to have uncovered sale documents showing that Glencore had paid associates of paramilitaries in Colombia. This followed a Colombian Court accepting evidence from former paramilitaries who claimed they had stolen land to sell to Prodeco, a subsidiary of Glencore, to start an open-cast coal mine in 2011. However, Glencore has repeatedly refuted all such allegations against it, and in a statement have said,

“These allegations are untrue. Neither Prodeco nor its parent company Glencore have ever had any links with paramilitaries whatsoever.”

In response to the University’s decision, Union Affairs Officer Toke Dahler told The Gryphon:

“We are obviously disappointed with the Council’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels. We know how much this cause matters to our students. Student groups have campaigned for a number of years for divestment, and as evidenced by the campus-wide referendum in November, a large majority of our membership wants us to continue asking the University to divest from fossil fuels. The council’s decision is not the end of the campaign. We will be continuing our work with student groups and activists to follow through on our policy.

“At the same time, we note a number of commitments to the sustainability agenda made by Council. We will continue to represent students and scrutinise the University’s commitments to the environment.”

Benjamin Cook

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