There was a cheerful atmosphere amongst the crowds on a mild Tuesday morning in February as HRH the Prince of Wales and Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland, arrived at the University of Liverpool.
These two leaders are linked to exceptional efforts to care for for the environment: Prince Charles has initiated the Prince’s Rainforest Project and the International Sustainability Unit, and last year Ireland became the world’s first country to divest from fossil fuel investment.
It is painfully ironic that they’re visiting the University of Liverpool, because UoL has put millions of pounds into the very problem that they’re fighting. According to the Liverpool Guild of Students, UoL has around £12,000,000 invested in the fossil fuel industry.
Why are fossil fuels a problem?
The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for global warming. Oil, natural gas and coal are extracted from the ground. The extraction process itself is often devastating for local environments and communities.
The fuels are then burned (primarily to generate electricity or to power vehicles) releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. This adds to the greenhouse gas blanket, causing enhanced global warming which is devastating for the planet.
Consequences include rising sea levels, increased droughts, higher frequency and severity of extreme weather events, loss of ice caps, shrinking glaciers, changes to seasonal river flow and many more issues. Millions of homes are at risk of permanent flooding, millions could die from droughts and extreme weather events, and the risks to landscapes and wildlife are unimaginable. More information and scientific background can be found here.
How is the University of Liverpool adding to the problem?
The university has £12 million invested in companies like Shell and BP. These are the very organisations responsible for the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. This choice invest in fossil fuel companies, putting financial return before environmental responsibility, is foolish and selfish.
Funding fossil fuel extraction legitimates it and helps it to continue, despite the likes of the United Nations, Barack Obama and David Attenborough, amongst hundreds of others, calling climate change the defining challenge for the next generation.
Higher Education institutions are there to raise up the next generation of scientists, politicians and business leaders, yet the University of Liverpool is funding the biggest problem that this generation is going to have to combat.
It’s time the university pulled out of fossil fuel investments and started investing in renewable fuels and sustainable enterprises instead: this is a new market with huge potential, and the university’s investment could help improve the provision of emissions-free fuels.
The Guild’s Fossil Free campaign
The Guild of Students is rightly fighting to put an end to this funding with its ‘Fossil Free’ campaign. Students can tell the University to stop funding climate change by signing the petition and they can keep up with the campaign on Facebook.
If you want to get involved in campaigning, contact Guild Deputy President Hannah at Hannah.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University’s Response
The University dispute the Guild’s figure of £12m invested in Fossil Fuels. They say that the actual figure is £7.6 million.
Furthermore, a university spokesperson said, “As part of the University’s commitment to social responsibility, we are introducing an ethical investment policy which will see the exclusion of a large number of tobacco, arms and fossil fuel companies from our investment portfolio. In line with our commitment to reducing the impact of climate change, this includes divesting from companies that derive more than 10% of their revenue from thermal coal or tar sands.
“We carefully considered full divestment from fossil fuel but concluded that a policy of active engagement and influence, enabled through our fund managers, will have a greater impact given the current progress around renewables and the ongoing reliance on other forms of energy, such as oil and gas.”
Whilst the University’s ethical investment policy is an improvement from the previous situation, it has still acknowledged that it invests millions of pounds in the fossil fuel industry.
The idea that “a policy of active engagement and influence” will have a greater impact on progress for renewables simply doesn’t add up. If the University truly wanted to see a shift towards renewables then it wouldn’t invest £7.6 million in fossil fuel companies.
Similarly, the mention of the “ongoing reliance on other forms of energy, such as oil and gas” does nothing to justify funding the extraction and use of those forms of energy. The University of Liverpool should be investing in renewables in order to help end this ongoing reliance. Instead, it is facilitating the continued usage of oil and gas by funding the companies that produce these fuels, despite the catastrophic long-term consequences for the world that we live in.
Take a stand
It was a real honour for the University of Liverpool to receive HRH Prince Charles and President Higgins last week. It’s incredibly sad that, through funding fossil fuel companies, the University is contradicting Charles’ legacy of environmental protection and failing to follow Ireland’s example of ending investments in fossil fuels altogether.
If emissions don’t stop soon then the irreversible and catastrophic consequences of climate change will be unleashed to the full. It’s making the world a less inhabitable place for people, plants and animals. Its impacts will be deadly for many of our planet’s most vulnerable communities. Yet, our university is funding it.
It’s time to take a stand.
Featured image: Danny Rigg