The University of Oxford has made a decision based on ethical grounds to exclude companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar-sands from its direct investments.

Students, academics and alumni have been campaigning for the university and its colleges to divest from the fossil fuel industry for over a year, with 41 college common rooms, representing over 12,500 students, passing motions to support the OUSU led campaign.

The University released a statement on Monday 18th March, saying, “given the risk of climate change to the environment and society, Council [the University’s executive governing body] has decided to strengthen further Oxford University Endowment Management’s [OUem] engagement with and reporting of the issue.”

Council agreed “to avoid investment in sectors with the highest environmental and social risks, leading to its present situation of no direct holdings in coal and oil sand companies”. Council has also requested OUem “to avoid any future investments in coal and oil sands.”

As of 31 December 2014, the Oxford Endowment Fund consists of £1.7 billion, with an estimated three per cent invested in the wider energy sector. 

The Investment Committee of the University will report annually on its voting decisions, and Council’s Environment Sustainability team is to release a yearly report on the carbon usage of sample groups of university members and on the progress towards institutional carbon emissions targets.

Bill McKibbon, founder of 350.org, a global grassroots movement with the aim of reducing global warming, commented, “Oxford may be the greatest University on our planet, and if anyone thought its great age might keep it from shaping the future, this decision should prove them wrong. Today it has offered great leadership on the crisis of our time.”

Andrew Taylor, the Fossil Free Campaigns Manager at People & Planet, said, “Many world leaders have studied under Oxford University’s spires. They should be taking notes today. The lesson is: it’s time to phase out coal and axe tar sands.”

Oxford academics have also spoken out in support of divestment, with over 100 academics signing an open letter requesting the University divest from fossil fuels. Dr. Felix Pinkert, a Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, commented, “By excluding investments in coal and tar-sands extraction, the University of Oxford demonstrates that universities can carry out their academic missio while also acting with moral integrity in their investment choices.”

However, the university can still invest in large energy companies that own significant tar sands projects, if coal and tar sands contribute under ten percent of the company’s total production. This has led to continued criticism from some activists, who will continue to campaign for the university to commit to divestment from all fossil fuels.

Fossil Free UK stated, “Rather than the end of the campaign, activists see this as an important victory and the first step towards a fully sustainable investment policy that would include divestment from all fossil fuel companies.”

Student campaigner Cara Turton-Chambers commented, “While we are pleased with today’s results, we as students feel that transparency is an issue within the university structures. Full disclosure of the university’s investments should only confirm what they have told us today.”

Seventy alumni will be handing back their degrees from Oxford University on Saturday 23rd May, as the University has not fully committed to divestment from all fossil fuel companies. 

In addition to the University of Oxford, four other UK universities have committed to divesting from fossil fuels: Glasgow University, Bedfordshire University, the University of London SOAS, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.