The University of Manchester currently has investments in BP and Royal Dutch Shell, two of the companies named among the 20 responsible for a third of all carbon emissions.
In an investigation by The Guardian, the companies were named as two of 20 responsible for producing a third of the world’s carbon emissions. BP is reported to produce 34.02 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965, and Royal Dutch Shell is reported to have contributed 31.95 billion tonnes.
The report follows efforts by several Russell Group universities – most recently the University of York – to move away from investing in fossil fuels, with some choosing to divest entirely.
The University’s investment portfolio does show some signs that leadership is considering divestment, with ExxonMobil, with whom the University had investments as recently as November 2018, no longer in the portfolio. ExxonMobil are reported to have produced 41.90 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965.
Speaking to The Mancunion, a University of Manchester spokesperson said that the University had developed a “Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRIP)”, which allows them to “pursue an ethical investment approach,” and that the institution “no longer invests in companies with significant coal and oil sands revenues”.
However, environmental campaign group People and Planet score the University only 10/100 on ‘Ethical Investment and Banking’, stating that the University had no student representative on their investment committee and failed to divest from fossil fuel companies.
Speaking to The Mancunion last June, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell addressed concerns over ethical investments, saying: “I think you have to be careful about the difference between what is an important statement and what is a gesture.
“I worry about the fact we are a university that uses a great deal of fossil fuels, because we use a lot of electricity, for our students, for our facilities, for our research. I don’t want to make a gesture, if you like, just to keep some people happy when the bigger issue, and it is a big issue – I am really worried about climate change – is that we’ve got to reduce our use of fossil fuels.”
There was a wide consensus among students that the University should consider the ethical values of companies they choose to invest in. However, some questioned where exactly the institution’s investments lay.
Freya Dixon, a third-year Geography student said: “I find it bewildering that we are routinely told within the academic consensus, both in the humanities and the sciences, that fossil fuel usage is causing a climate crisis, yet the University still invests in these businesses.
“There is no explanation for where this money is going and quite frankly, I feel deeply troubled paying fees towards an institution that continues to prop these companies up. There is so much talk around making campus greener but it’s all half-hearted if you don’t get to the root of ecological catastrophe – big fossil fuel companies.”
One student, who chose to stay anonymous, commented: “This issue hinges on exactly where the investments lie. Last year, claims that the University was connected to the demolition of Palestinian properties, via their assets in Caterpillar, were unfair in representing the University’s intentions.
“However, I certainly agree that funds, if needing their value increased, should be placed in companies on the stock market with rigid ethical values and more humanitarian aims.”
A spokesperson from the University of Manchester press office said: “We have developed a Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRIP) which allows the University, as a charity, to pursue an ethical investment approach, whilst minimising any potential negative impact on our investment returns. The University’s Board Finance Committee, which determines our investment policy, will continue its considerations of ethical investments. As a university, we work closely with our investment managers to ensure our portfolio complies with our published SRIP and considers Environmental, Social and Governance issues as well as financial factors.”
“The University of Manchester no longer invests in companies with significant coal and oil sands revenues. Following an update to the University’s SRIP, our investment managers have been instructed not to invest in in companies that generate more than 5% of their revenue from thermal coal or oil sands.” Both thermal coal – the type of coal used in power plants – and oil sands – also known as tar sands – are associated with producing high levels of carbon emissions and air pollution.
The University has stated: “We understand climate change is a global problem, and as a University we have a role to play in bringing our influence to bear. This update to the SRIP reinforces our approach that seeks to pursue a responsible investment, whilst minimising any potential negative impact on our investment returns.
“The University’s investment managers buy and sell shares on a regular basis and incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into their investment decision-making criteria, and are required to comply with the University’s SRIP.”
The amount of money that the University of Manchester has invested in these companies is currently unknown but the University has been contacted for comment.