‘Indefensible’: Petition calls for Manchester Uni to end £40m fossil fuel investment

Almost one hundred academics have joined the fight to get the University of Manchester to cut all ties with the fossil fuels industry.

The 96 professors and researchers have signed an open letter calling on the university’s Vice Chancellor and Board of Governors to put an end to their huge investment – around £40million – in the industry.

By signing the open letter, prominent academics such as poet Jeanette Winterson have added their voices to a 2,000-strong student petition demanding the university not only cut their controversial links with the fossil fuel companies but ‘actively reinvest in socially and environmentally responsible funds’.

The group leading the campaign, Fossil Free Manchester (FFM), have put pressure on the university over their Policy for Socially Responsible Investment, as they argue continued fossil fuel investment is an ‘environmentally degrading and socially irresponsible’ contradiction.

Joel Smith, Activities and Development Officer at the Students’ Union and leading member of FFM, told MM: “We think an energy revolution needs to take place internationally in order to have a liveable planet a century from now.

“Universities should be leaders and not followers in this transformation and Manchester as the UK’s largest University, a research intensive University and one that prides itself on ‘social responsibility’ should be driving this.”

Students and FFM are demanding that the university commits to freezing any new investment in fossil fuel companies and acts to completely dissociate from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that control the majority of carbon reserves within five years.

The open letter was published just before the group presented a report outlining the need to divest to the university’s Board of Governors today.

The report will then be passed over to the Finance Committee who will have the ultimate say on whether to cease continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Mr Smith said: “Our current figures show from over 700 respondents on our research that around 75% agree that the University should not invest.

“This is much higher than NUS National research [asking the same question] which found 48%.

“The students and staff at Manchester are incredibly engaged with politics so I think this goes some way to explain why people here clearly care about this issue.”

If UoM choose to divest they will follow in the footsteps of Glasgow University, which became the first uni in Europe to divest from fossil fuels last October, after a year of continued pressure from students and the Fossil Free national campaign

Manchester University’s entrenched links with fossil fuels were revealed through a series of freedom of information requests made by Fossil Free Manchester.

From the obtained investment portfolios they exposed that UoM had 846,337 shares in fossil fuel companies, which amounted to a total of £9,529,172, as of last April.

As well as the direct investment portfolio, a further £29.5 million is invested in the 10 FTSE 100 fossil fuel companies through the university’s pension fund in the form of equity and corporate bonds, although there has not yet been discussion over divestment within this fund.

Added together with the pension fund, total fossil fuel investment at the end of the last financial year stood at almost £40million.

The open letter states that the reasons for the university to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry are both ecological and economic.

It explains that 60-80% of fossil fuel reserves must remain underground if the crucial threshold of two degrees of warming is to be avoided.

And that the Bank of England has warned of the financial risks of investing in assets which may become ‘stranded’ due to government policy.

The open letter can be seen as endorsement of the dominant theory amongst scientists that fossil fuels are having a significant effect on global climate change as many of the signatories specialise in scientific disciplines.

Mr Smith added: “There’s absolutely no question that right now any investment in fossil fuels is unjustifiable; there’s simply too much at stake.

“All the social issues global society faces are magnified and imposed even further on the poor if global warming isn’t dealt with.

“So to idly sit back and invest in fossil fuel companies with the opinion that that is a ‘neutral position’ is indefensible.

“It has now become a political decision to invest in fossil fuels and we need to make sure organisations globally understand what they are doing needs to stop.”

To read the open letter from Fossil Free Manchester to the University of Manchester click here.

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