A group of campaigners at Birkbeck holding a sign reading "Fossil Free Careers"

Birkbeck, University of London’s careers department has become the first in the UK to announce their exclusion of all oil, gas and mining industries from careers recruitment.

When the Birkbeck Climate Network first secured agreement from the careers team about this, we had no idea what a huge deal we were sitting on. While we’d been working with People & Planet on a divestment campaign for three years, and a Green New Deal campaign for two, targeting careers was a newer idea. So when the acting head of the careers department said he was willing to change their policy and wouldn’t be working with any oil, gas or mining companies or promoting these industries as graduate careers, we were quite pleased and added this to the long list of updates sent out to our members and to People and Planet. It wasn’t even the first bullet point. Luckily, People and Planet were quick to react and let us know how nationally significant the announcement was.

Climate Network member Guillermo Lluch acknowledged upon hearing the announcement that fossil fuel companies “are unethical, exploitative and responsible for the worst climate catastrophe in human history. Partnering with these companies undermines the climate crisis, and jeopardises the future of the next generations.” Birkbeck should instead partner with renewable energy companies to show our commitment to fighting the climate crisis. As the first UK university to commit to fossil free careers, we hope we spur others to quickly follow suit. It would mean a lot to us as climate activists to know our work has positively contributed to the fight for a better world.

People and Planet’s Fossil Free Careers campaign was a particularly good fit for Birkbeck. Many of our students study in the evenings to upskill and reskill while working full-time or caring for family members, ensuring their knowledge and skill-sets are fit for the jobs of the future. We knew it would make a bold statement for the university to signpost that these jobs will not be in the extractive industries responsible for wrecking the climate. It is also important from a climate justice point of view that Birkbeck stands with working class and marginalised people against the destructive profiteering of fossil fuel industries.

The Climate Network is a student-staff grassroots group of 250 members working to ensure that Birkbeck meets its obligations and aspirations toward addressing the climate crisis and achieving climate justice. One of our strengths is the way we have engaged all parts of Birkbeck’s community. As well as students we’ve had staff members with both academic and non-academic roles, and we’ve worked closely with the Student Union and two staff unions, UCU and Unison. We are a truly collaborative operation.

Our next step is to renew our push for Birkbeck to divest from fossil fuels entirely. We’ve had widespread support from the student and staff community for the university to divest, and we’ve recently presented a business case to the finance director outlining the overwhelming benefits and opportunities this could bring. While Birkbeck has moved to a more sustainable investment strategy in recent years, so far they’ve stalled on full divestment, and we need to keep up the pressure from all quarters to make sure they do the right thing.

In March this year we submitted our petition for a Birkbeck Green New Deal covering all aspects of our teaching, finances and operations and secured a meeting with Deputy Vice Chancellor Matt Innes. Securing a fossil free careers commitment is our biggest win so far and demonstrates that there is in fact a willingness from the university to be a part of the solution, an example we hope the senior leadership team will take and run with.

Next year, in 2023, Birkbeck will celebrate its 200th anniversary of providing high quality education to working class people. In all corners of the university, people are talking about securing our legacy for another 200 years. But if the climate crisis continues at its projected pace, the future of the university and all of us who inhabit planet Earth is in peril. That’s why we called on the university to adopt an ambitious Green New Deal that would cover divestment, decarbonisation, climate education and a host of other areas. What better way to ensure Birkbeck can continue to deliver our mission far into the future?

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