Five members of the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC) staged a protest at the University of Oxford’s Sustainability Showcase last night, standing for the duration of the ceremony with signs that questioned the University’s continued investments in fossil fuels.

The students rose from their seats to display a sign that read “Still investing in fossil fuels??” as Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson opened the event at the Sheldonian Theatre.

In her remarks, the Vice-Chancellor acknowledged the protest, saying: “We have representatives from a large number of entities across the University… even some people who are protesting our investments in fossil fuels.”

The protest was broadcast live on Facebook. Source: OCJC

The Sustainability Showcase is an annual awards ceremony in which the University celebrates sustainability initiatives across colleges and the university at large. Efforts concerning investments and finance were not listed among the categories of awards.

The protesters said that their intention is not to detract from the achievements actually being made. Pascale Gourdeau, a DPhil student and spokeswoman for OCJC, said: “Students, staff and faculty at the University of Oxford have done tremendous work to lessen the carbon footprint of its own premises, and these are efforts that should absolutely be maintained and rewarded.

“However, sustainability has a broader sense: it also concerns the systemic, normalized, and institutionalized forces which are rapidly contributing to the deterioration of life, with the most vulnerable among us affected the most.”

The University’s endowment is managed by Oxford University Endowment Management (OUem) in a fund that stood at £3.4 billion as of December 2018. This fund includes investments by twenty-five colleges and six charitable trusts associated with the University. About £74.8 million of it was invested in the energy sector.

Gourdeau told Cherwell: “If you believe the science and you believe the local communities — many of them indigenous — who have been resisting extractive projects for decades, you believe that burning fossil fuels is unsustainable for the planet and its peoples.

“Profiting from the burning of carbon should be viewed as more urgently unsustainable than anything else.”

According to the pro-divestment organisation People & Planet, 76 UK Universities have already committed to full divestment from fossil fuels. Last month, the governing body of the University of Cambridge commissioned an inquiry into the matter. The report will “set out fully the advantages and disadvantages, including the social and political ones, of a policy of divestment from fossil fuels”.

In 2015, Oxford University Council voted to disallow the buying of direct shares in coal and tar sands industries. However, campaigners say that this did not meet their demands of disinvestment of all direct and indirect shares in coal, oil and gas.

Two years later, OUem’s offshore investments were revealed in the Paradise Papers, which documented  indirectly invested in fossil fuel companies such as Royal Dutch Shell through offshore funds.