Fossil fuel divestment placard

The global movement for fossil fuel divestment took another step forward today. The University of Leicester has become the 94th university in the UK to commit to excluding fossil fuel companies from its investments.

The university’s commitment follows a flurry of other similar decisions at higher education institutions across the country in recent months. In November 2021, Lancaster University divested its endowment fund – worth over £3 million – from fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms trade.

Climate campaigners have been celebrating the news. Laura Clayson, climate campaigns manager at People & Planet – the UK student activist network that supports divestment campaigns – described the commitment as “an essential and welcome move”. She also praised the students and staff at the university that campaigned for divestment over a number of years. Clayson said,

This is an essential and welcome move from the University of Leicester, who have become the 94th UK university to commit to exclude fossil fuel companies from their investments. The popular phrase ‘if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage’ is true now more than ever. And in this moment it is also equally true that it is wrong to profit from the soaring cost of living crisis hitting the poorest communities hardest, like fossil fuel companies currently are. The student movement is in solidarity with those on the frontlines of climate impacts and the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. We are hugely grateful to the students and staff at Leicester that fought for this win.

The University of Leicester first announced its decision to divest from fossil fuels in 2020. However, People & Planet had not verified this commitment until the university confirmed that this decision covered investments made directly by the university and on its behalf by external fund managers.

Over 1,500 institutions across the globe have now made public commitments to cut their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. As a result, an estimated $40 trillion of investments have been withdrawn from the sector. Of that total, £15 billion has come from the UK higher education sector.

Such commitments have been made after consistent and sustained public pressure from grassroots activists and campaign groups. When student activist network People & Planet launched the UK wing of the Fossil Free campaign in universities in 2013, no higher education institutions in the UK had committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry. But after the University of Glasgow became the first to divest in 2014, dozens have followed suit.

Following the University of Leicester’s decision to divest, student campaigners are demanding the university goes further in terminating its relationship with fossil fuels. Now they are calling for the university to cease advertising careers in the fossil fuel industry to students. Campaigners have launched a petition which calls for the university careers department to refuse all new relationships with fossil fuel companies, not renew any existing relationships with fossil companies, and adopt an ethical careers policy to exclude all fossil fuel companies from recruitment opportunities.

J Clarke – acting director of campaigns at People & Planet – said,

It is great to see the University of Leicester taking steps to align its operations with the urgent issue of climate justice. Now it is vital that the university goes further, and excludes oil, gas and mining recruiters from campus. Jobs in climate-wrecking industries don’t make sense for students and don’t make sense for the planet. It’s time for university careers services to embed sustainability considerations meaningfully and adopt an Ethical Careers Policy that treats the climate crisis like the reality it is.

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Image credit: Kate Ausburn – Creative Commons