Words: Adam Cantwell-Corn and Paloma Parkes
Illustration: Andy Carter
“There’s more to being green than just turning off a few lights” – The University of Bristol
Perhaps the irony is lost on the Uni management team. While the university engages in research on environmental sustainability, the UoB’s so called “ethical investment policy” allows the institution to hold over £700,000 in BP and over £500,000 in Shell Oil, among others (see below). Despite receiving “5 awards for its sustainability work” in 2014, the institution continues to invest over £5.6 Million pounds in 22 companies directly or indirectly involved in the exploration, extraction and processing of fossil fuels. (See the portfolio and fossil fuel group here UoB Portfolio of investments 31st July 2015.xlsx. For a breakdown of companies solely involved in fossil fuels see here.)
In addition to the obvious impact of the powerful fossil fuel industry on climate change, the industry is also characterised by extensive corruption, human rights abuses and tax evasion (see The Bristol Cable #4). Adding to the outrage is the fact that the University is a public institution in large part funded directly by the taxpayer and fee paying students; yet it continues to invest its £58.6 million portfolio in a way incompatible with many people’s interests and opinions.
Beyond “saving the world”…
Even beyond the environmental and ethical concerns of investing in such entities as Duke Energy (subject to a fine of $102 Million in May 2015 for polluting North Carolina rivers with coal ash) there is mounting evidence that the fossil fuel sector isn’t even a financially sound investment.
Research has shown that fossil fuel companies do not have the same profit margins as the past. In August reports revealed that The Wellcome Trust, a major investor in the sector, took a £175 Million hit for it’s sins following a dramatic drop in value of BHP Billiton (by 45%), Shell (by 30%), Rio Tinto (by 29%) and BP by (21%). UoB maintains investments of between £290,000 and £770,000 in each of the above named companies.
According to Bloomberg, a financial market publication, so called “ethical investments” in such sectors as renewable energies are seeing year on year growth in returns. Whilst the financial analysis could be disputed, the prospect of a global agreement to limit fossil fuel could leave the UoB’s investments worthless! But don’t hold your breath.
For too long institutions like UoB have used and abused words like “sustainability” and promoted boasts of its associations with Bristol Green Capital. With positive plans to make the campus “carbon neutral by 2030” more must be done to counter the appalling record on ethical investments and the main sources of carbon emissions.
“..making the University a more sustainable institution for Bristol, for now and for the future.”
It can be done. And maybe it will…
There has been a surge of Universities choosing to fully divest from fossil fuels, including Universities of Warwick, Glasgow, Bedfordshire and SOAS, not to mention a global movement that has claimed full or partial victories in Sweden, Australia, USA and New Zealand. In Bristol the pressure is mounting. Student group Fossil Free University of Bristol have pushed the Finance Department to set up a finance sub-committee investigating divestment. And, at the Student Union’s 2014 Annual General Meeting, a motion calling for a transparent and more ethical investment policy was easily passed.
It’s time to push all public funds towards public interest investments and research.
The financial, political and social arguments for fossil fuel divestment abound. But when will the University shun its past of ill-gotten financial gains for a stable and sustainable future?
Paloma is a student at Bristol and a member of Fossil Free – University of Bristol.
Do you agree with this article? Have your say – @thebristolcable #UoBdivest