By Cameron McIntosh
Durham University will divest from all companies involved in fossil fuel extraction.
The landmark decision was announced yesterday following a year-long consultation with staff and students, four-fifths of whom supported divestment.
The University currently has approximately £1.5 million invested in such companies and becomes the 62nd University nationwide to commit to divestment.
This news follows many student-led campaigns and demonstrations orchestrated by groups such as Durham People and Planet Society.
In March 2015, Palatinate revealed that the University had invested £4.5 million in fossil fuel companies, including partnerships with companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Anadarko Petroleum.
The commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the University’s investment portfolio was established in response to a proposal from Durham Students’ Union last year.
The leader of the commission, Professor David Cowling, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Arts and Humanities), said: “The decision to divest from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction is an important one for the University.
“It has been taken following full consultation, and I would like to thank all staff, students and alumni who shared their views on this issue.
“Durham is a world top 100 university, a research partner of international standing and a significant employer in North East England. We are committed not only to divestment, but to becoming a major partner in the future development of green energy.
“The University is proud to be home to the Durham Energy institute which is already a leading centre for energy research, and we look forward to building on this work in future.”
President of the Students’ Union, Megan Croll, welcomed the announcement: “I’m delighted that student ambitions for a fossil-fuel-free investment policy at Durham University have been realised.
“This success shows the power that students and staff, working together, have to make our community more progressive and responsible. I’d like to pay tribute to the student leaders that have put considerable effort into this work, notably the Durham SU People and Planet Society.”
Durham People and Planet Society is part of a a student campaigning organisation that boasts over 50 branches on university campuses nationwide. According to their website, they are the “largest student network in Britain campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment.”
The Durham campaign to lobby the University to make comprehensive changes to its environmental policy was launched in 2015 and has since been awarded ‘Best Student Campaign’ by Durham Students’ Union.
Former president of Durham University People and Planet society and one of the leaders of the campaign, Tara Wight said: “Following an excessively dragged out bureaucratic process, we are very pleased that the University has finally responded to student pressure and committed to stop financing the fossil fuel industry.
“Solidarity with other student groups campaigning to hold their university’s accountable for their investments, including Cardiff, Bristol, Loughborough and UCL.”
The annual University League compiled by People and Planet to rank Universities by environmental and ethical performance, placed Durham 125th out of 154 institutions in 2017.
Employing a university-style grading system, Durham was rated a “Third Class University” by methodology that considers factors such as sustainability, environmental policy and energy sources. The institution scored an overall score of just 25%, including 0% for ethical investment and 12.5% for carbon reduction.
Max Emmet, a member of both the Divestment Commission and Durham University People and Planet Society said: “This win shows the important effect that student campaigning can have into pushing the university into a decision that was widely supported by students and staff, and most importantly was the right thing to do.
“Hopefully the University can capitalise on this experience and engage with students to implement positive and progressive environmental policy across the board.”
After welcoming the news, Durham People and Planet President, PJ Cameron, spoke of the society’s objectives moving forward: “Durham People & Planet are moving on from our successful Fossil Free campaign to tackle Undoing Borders, seeking to end the University’s contract with outsourcing company and immigration detention centre operator, Mitie.”
Photograph: Kamyar Adl via Flickr