University Commission on Divestment makes first statement

By Anna Tatham

Durham University’s Commission on Divestment from Fossil Fuels has released its first statement in relation to its decision to consider divestment from companies “that participate in the extraction of fossil fuel reserves.”

The Commission was established by the University Executive Committee (UEC) on the 19th July 2016 with the aim to review investment in the fossil fuel industry and evaluate the possible consequences of divestment for the University.

The debate surrounding fossil fuel divestment at the University has been a significant topic since March 2015, when Palatinate found that the University had invested over £4.5 million in fossil fuel companies.

Following the release of this information, a number of student organisations including People and Planet and Durham Young Greens have pushed and campaigned for the University to reconsider their policy regarding these investments.

In addition to these student demonstrations, former leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, signed three letters to the University, Durham Cathedral, and Durham County Council asking them to withdraw any investments in fossil fuel companies.

Initially, the University told Palatinate: “We have no plans to withdraw from investing or engaging in research financed from fossil fuel companies.”

However, following a consultation with Durham Students’ Union the Commission will now be considering divestment from companies utilising fossil fuel reserves.

Within this first statement the Commission stressed that it “recognises and welcomes the engagement of the Student’s Union with this important issue.”

The Commission has admitted that the issue of divestment is “broad, complex and multifaceted involving many different University departments and activities,” therefore tackling this issue “needs to consider the interests of relevant stakeholders across the whole of the University.”

Upon its establishment Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Arts and Humanities, stressed that “all staff and students will be given the opportunity to contribute to the review.”

The Commission is comprised of faculty representatives, a representative of the University Research Institutes, student body representatives, Durham University’s Chief Financial Officer, and the University’s Director of Governance and Executive Support.

The statement released on the 25th October 2016 encourages University staff, students and alumni to submit their opinions on the possibility of Durham University divesting from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction, despite its current involvement in renewable and green technologies.

It also highlights that “Durham University currently has no direct investment holdings in fossil fuel companies. Its investments are held in funds administered by investment management companies.”

Feedback is also welcomed in order to decipher how the University “as a catalyst for change can engage in the debate about responding to climate change.”

Interested parties can submit their views online.

The consultation will close on the 31st December 2016.

Photograph: James Ennis

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