Fossil Free KCL campaigners
Fossil Free KCL campaigners

King’s College London has joined the increasing number of UK universities that have committed to partial divestment from fossil fuels. The college agreed to end its investments in companies that derive more than 10% of their income from the dirtiest fossil fuels: coal and tar sands. The college will also be reinvesting 15% of its £179 million endowment in low carbon alternatives, making it the first UK university to commit to such a pledge.

The decision follows two and a half years of campaigning by the student group Fossil Free KCL. In 2013, a freedom of information request revealed £8m worth of investments in fossil fuels companies and companies with a record of environmental damage. In October 2014, the group handed in a 1,000 signature petition to the university, urging them to commit to divestment. However, the demands were rejected by the college senior management, which includes a former employee of BP as a vice principle.

However, over the following year of campaigning – combining theatrical flashmobs, protests and endorsements from King’s college alumni including Desmond Tutu – the college began to take more notice and entered into a dialogue with the students. By 2015, substantial headway had already been made and, in November of that year, a combined committee of staff and students was established to evaluate the ethics of the college’s investments. This committee has now overwhelmingly voted in favour of the recommendations put forward by Fossil Free KCL.

Campaigning continued throughout 2016, culminating in the final meeting of the committee, when we gathered outside the meeting on the day of the decision to show our continued support for divestment and to celebrate this step forward.

The decision has been welcomed by staff and students alike. In an official statement, Principle Edward Byrne stated that he was ‘very pleased with these recommendations’, adding that “if we are going to champion sustainability, we must also be champions of how we act so that our energy footprint is as modest as it possibly can be’.

However, we recognise that there is still a long way to go. Anna Smith, a final year student and member of Fossil Free KCL, stated that ‘whilst the decision to drop investments in highly polluting forms of fossil fuels is a positive step, the alarming rates of global warming mean that partial divestment is not enough and we will continue to campaign until King’s is completely free of its investments in gas and oil companies’. And indeed the Fossil Free group has already started planning for our future actions.

Despite much sterling work from student activists, UK universities have been reluctant to commit to more than partial divestment. A great deal of work remains to be done by environmental groups to encourage the institutions we are part of to play their fullest role in securing the future that they purport to be custodians of. For Fossil Free KCL, and for other groups across the country, the campaign will go on.