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UK universities should cut ties with fossil fuel industry, say environmental groups

UK universities need to stop investing billions of pounds in the fossil fuel industry and training students in preparation for oil and gas careers, three environmental organisations have said.

“Our future crucially hinges on our society’s ability to go fossil free, but UK universities are deeply entangled in the fossil fuel industry,” says Knowledge and Power, a report published by Platform, People & Planet and 350.org, organisations aimed at promoting environmental justice and solving the climate crisis.

UK universities are investing about £5 billion in the fossil fuel industry, the report says, noting that some university endowment funds are invested in oil and gas shares through direct investment and pension funds. It calls on universities to stop these investments and shift funds to ethical investments that do not include the fossil fuel industry.

The report also objects that executives from fossil fuel companies are given honourary degrees and invited to speak at university events. Senior executives from BP and Shell, including former BP chief executive Tony Hayward, received more than 20 awards in the past 10 years. This practice needs to stop, the report says.

Universities are also called upon to disclose details of their financial and other relationships to the fossil fuel industry and to stop encouraging students to work in the industry. Training of students in preparation for oil and gas careers also needs to stop, as does fossil fuel research. In its place, there needs to be more research on climate-friendly solutions, the report says.

“Instead of training the industry and researching new ways to extract fossil fuels, they can work to research and train in technologies which will build a clean and healthy future,” the report says. “In the process of putting their house in order, universities will be pioneering a new way for public institutions to become truly independent of the fossil fuel economy, trailblazing a path for wider society to follow.”