‘End fossil fuel funding’ implore Imperial students

Amid these calls for divestment, Imperial has announced the release of the Imperial Zero Index. The index will be used to “assess annually how its energy industry collaborators are performing in their commitment, strategy and operational efforts towards net zero”. 

The university has stated that it will disengage from collaborations with companies that score poorly in this assessment. It remains unclear if investments are to be included in this assessment, yet campaigners are urging the university not to apply this index to its investments – where evidence and precedent in the sector for divestment, is overwhelming – and to heed the calls of the Imperial community to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry.   

Imperial’s investment policy currently states that it will only invest in fossil fuel companies that are aligned to the Paris Agreement. Yet, there is already overwhelming evidence that the fossil fuel industry is not transitioning its business model in line with the Paris Agreement, instead doubling down on long-term fossil fuel expansion several orders of magnitude greater than the planet can withstand. 

In addition to this, a report released by Cambridge University titled ‘Grace on Fossil Fuel Industry Ties’ found that “no fossil fuel companies (…), have short-term targets, CapEx plans, or policy engagement which are aligned with NZ2050 and hence the University’s level of ambition”.

Research

The Imperial Climate Action group has stated that “decades of investor engagement efforts” have failed to transition these companies away from their core oil, coal and gas business models. Fossil fuel companies continue to invest billions into new long-term fossil fuel expansion projects. 

The student letter by ICA therefore makes the case that “divestment by respected public institutions is a key strategy […] as it helps to expose fossil fuel companies’ failure to voluntarily shift their business models”, helping to pave the way for the necessary legislative action to compel companies to halt destructive business practices. 

In other words, investor engagement approaches rely on companies voluntarily transitioning their business models. Divestment approaches aim to increase public awareness of company malpractice, and therefore pressure on governments to force companies to halt practices and make the necessary transitions within the timelines dictated by science. 

Imperial College has continued to delay taking action on the matter, and is accused of being unresponsive to demands of its staff and students. Students undertook an action for Valentines Day, when they signed a valentine’s day card asking Hugh Brady to break up with fossil fuels. A response has not been given to the student group. 

This action is the latest in Imperial Climate Action’s fossil free campaign, which is coordinated by student-led campaigning charity People & Planet in partnership with SOS UK’s Invest for Change campaign. The fossil free campaign has seen almost 75 per cent of UK universities divest from fossil fuels. This includes 21 out of the UKs 24 research-intensive Russell Group universities, further showing how Imperial College is falling behind in the sector.

Disregard

Ioana Balabasciuc, Divestment Campaign leader at Imperial Climate Action, said: “With time running out, and the fossil fuel industry rolling back the inadequate climate transition plans it had committed to, it has never been clearer that light-touch shareholder engagement is not the answer. 

“We need institutions like Imperial to join the rest of the university sector and stop pedalling this myth. Instead, Imperial must mobilise its reputational influence to put pressure on our government to finally legislate against the fossil fuel industry’s catastrophic business practices. 

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal and strongly condemns the fossil fuel industry’s deliberate disregard for alarming indicators of climate change. We don’t require yet another index to comprehend this; we need full divestment from fossil fuels.”

Joanna D Haigh, a distinguished fellow at Imperial College department of physics, said: “To invest in fossil fuels is to seek financial gain from an industry which continues to drive global heating and its devastating impact on people and the environment. Imperial College does not need to align itself with this activity.”

Notable academic petition signatories include Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie, a research fellow and former senior scientist at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Professor Joanna Haigh, a distinguished research fellow; Professor Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute and professor of climate science and policy at the Centre for Environmental Policy; Dr Paulo Ceppi, a senior lecturer in climate science and Professor Ralf Toumi, a co-director of the Grantham Institute.

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Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

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