Oxford University Student Union passed a motion supporting divestment from fossil fuel companies at the first OUSU Council of term this Wednesday.
Accordingly, OUSU is to make a formal request that the University “ceases to directly invest in fossil fuel companies”, with a ‘fossil fuel company’ being any company that participates in exploration and/or extraction of fossil fuel reserves.
The motion was proposed by James Rainey of Balliol. Its seconder is Dan Turner, Balliol JCR President and current OULC Co-Chair. Similar motions will be presented to JCRs and MCRs in coming weeks.
Amidst the general concerns about global warming, particular impetus for the motion came from an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last September: the report stated that cumulative carbon emissions must stay below 800 gigatons to avoid a 20C global temperature rise. The motion noted that, “Over-shooting this by just 5% increases the chance of exceeding 20C to 50%. Over 500 gigatons have already been emitted.
Current fossil fuel reserves amount to nearly four times the remaining carbon budget. Therefore between 60-80% of reserves must stay in the ground.”
According to some estimates, the top 200 fossil fuel companies have spent close to $700 billion in the past 12 months on exploiting currently undeveloped reserves.
OUSU deemed the University to be implicated in this via investments in fossil fuel companies, which comprise around 5% of its endowment- roughly 2k per student.
However, some students feel that financial matters should be kept apart from ethics. Duncan Hegan, a second year Historian, commented, “[the University] invests in fossil fuel companies because they get a good return on their money, and that benefits the students. Well maybe not students, but I like to think it does somehow. OUSU is shooting itself in the foot.”
Yet OUSU council noted that there is a growing international campaign for fossil fuel divestment, with student-led campaigns in 20 UK universities including Cambridge.
Turner, who seconded the motion, explained, “even if it is just a symbolic gesture, it encourages others to follow suit. There was opposition on financial grounds, but when it comes to it we can’t really put on price on an issue like this. If we get it wrong, the stakes are so high.”
New College biochemist Zain Sood echoed this sentiment, “It’s the socially responsible thing to do. The campaign needs the backing of global brands, like Oxford Uni, to keep gathering momentum.”
The motion also resolved to, “request that the University of Oxford releases a policy statement before the start of the new academic year setting out its view whether or not investment in fossil fuel companies can be considered ‘socially responsible’”. OUSU will request that the University “puts safeguards in place to ensure the Universitty does not indirectly invest in fossil fuel companies through any indirect investment channel.”
The University manages investments through its subsidiary Oxford University Endowment Management.
Several other motions were passed at OUSU Council. Students also voted for a university campaign for Fairtrade, to support local homeless charities, to condemn increased “marketisation” of Oxford. and to spend £700 attending a feminist conference.