The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Fossil Free Campaign demonstrate for divestment

The campaigners are calling on the University to “divest from the fossil fuel industry and shift funds to lower risk, ethical investments within 5 years.”

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The Manchester Fossil Free Campaign and their supporters have staged a demonstration in protest to the University of Manchester’s continued financial involvement in the oil industry.

Held outside University Place on Friday, the protest included several members of the Students’ Union executive team and students and staff from across the university. It also featured a large banner with the motif “Climate Change Kills.”

This demonstration comes after The Mancunion reported that the university’s shares in various FTSE 100 oil companies are worth almost £40 million. It was also revealed that as a result of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the university lost £2.23 million in endowment value due to holding shares in BP.

Joel Smith, Activities Officer of the Students’ Union and member of the Fossil Free Campaign, has been in talks with the University leadership for divestment. Smith hopes that the strong turnout for the demonstration and the delivery of the divestment petition to the office of the Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell will galvanise support for the campaign and aid further dialogue in the months to come.

Smith said:“It’s really exciting seeing so many people coming out to support the campaign. We’re pushing for 2000 signatures in the next couple of weeks and we’ve got more events on campus in the pipeline too. Our approach to energy this century could be the defining issue for our society and we’re hoping the University will take its role as a leading institution for change seriously and start making sensible investment choices that benefit everyone.”

The petition, calls on the university to “immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies” and to “divest from the fossil fuel industry and shift funds to lower risk, ethical investments within 5 years.” To date, it has over 1,500 signatures.

The university have now responded to both the Mancunion story and the criticism from the campaigners. In a statement, a University of Manchester spokesman said: “The University has a Socially Responsible Investment Policy, which is a public document available on our website. The University’s investment portfolio is managed by one of the world’s leading asset management firms, and is reviewed annually against this investment policy.

“The terms of the policy were agreed by the University’s Finance Committee and by the Board of Governors, which both have Student Union representation. We do not hold any direct shareholdings, so any influence is brought to bear purely by our fund managers, and because they work on behalf of a number of institutions, they can bring much greater influence than a single organisation.”

Professor Colin Bailey, the University’s Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, also responded to the claims about the university’s industrial collaborations. He said: “Ignoring the global challenges of climate change and energy is not socially responsible and refusing any engagement with companies involved with fossil fuels is not the answer either.

“We are all dependent on energy produced from coal, oil and gas, so we must work with these companies to ensure this precious resource is not wasted, while using the latest research and techniques, together with regulation and investment, to reduce the impact any extraction of fuel has on the environment and ensure it is transported to its point of use without any waste and is used sparingly and effectively.

“In parallel, we continue apace to research and develop all low-carbon forms of energy, in terms of its source, transmission and use, with the ultimate aim of significantly reducing the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.”

A full link to the University’s Socially Responsible Investment Policy document: http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/DocuInfo.aspx?DocID=659

You can find the Fossil Free petition at bit.ly/fossilfreemcr