People & Planet student activists at Cardiff University plan to spray-chalk their school’s main entrance this Tuesday afternoon in protest of the university’s investments in the fossil fuels industry. The institution currently holds approximately £2.5 million in endowments, invested in companies like BP Oil and Royal Dutch Shell that are involved in fossil fuel extraction.
People & Planet is a student-led organization, focusing on humanitarian and environmental campaigns in universities across the UK. As part of the group’s Fossil Free Campaign, the organization has called upon universities to end their partnerships and investments with fossil fuel companies.
Over the last several years at Cardiff University, members of the student activist group have coordinated a number of other protest efforts calling for the university’s full divestment from the fossil fuels industry, including a petition with the signatures of nearly 1,300 university members. Two weeks ago, the group held a sit-in outside the Vice Chancellor’s office and drew chalk crosses on university buildings to speak out against the school’s investments.
‘The student response has been overwhelmingly positive’, said Jack Pickering, a campaigner at Cardiff People & Planet. Pickering has been involved with the school’s organization for about three years, and is currently a PhD student in Environmental Planning. Pickering said that he is hopeful for a big turnout for the group’s direct action on Tuesday, based on the large amount of student support he felt that the group’s past efforts have received.
Last year at King’s College in London, a faculty member and a student were both arrested for spray-painting anti-fossil fuels slogans across their campus’ main hall, in an attempt to pressure the school to drop its own investments in the industry. The faculty member was charged with criminal damage and fined £500.
Pickering explained that if Cardiff students are arrested because of tomorrow’s direct action, they would still have the support of the student group. ‘There will be a support network for students if there are arrests’, he said.
Earlier this month, Edinburgh University made headlines in its decision to fully drop all of its fossil fuel investments, making it the largest UK university endowment fund to be completely stripped of all oil, gas, and coal holdings. In total, sixty-one UK and two Irish universities have committed to divesting from the fossil fuels industry.
However, despite pressures from the student body, Cardiff University has yet to fully pull out of its investments.
Recently, the university’s Finance and Banking Committee recommended the institution to specifically divest from companies that generate more than 10 per cent of their earnings from coal and tar sands.
A Cardiff spokesman had the following to say:
‘We are currently reviewing the University’s ethical investment policy and the current draft includes, for the first time, a clear statement that the University will divest from companies that make more than 10 per cent of their revenues from coal and/or tar sands. The draft policy may be further revised to reflect current concerns when it is considered by Council at its meeting later this month’.
In response, more than 142 of the school’s faculty members harshly criticized this ’10 per cent divestment’ proposal in a letter to the university’s Vice-Chancellor. The letter argued that this decision will have any result on Cardiff’s investments since none of the companies the university currently invests in make their revenues this way.
Friederike Lürken, President of Cardiff People & Planet, said:
‘Cardiff University has to decide what its stance on fossil fuel investment is. Either it remains in denial about the ethical consequences of its investments and maintains its portfolio as it is, or it acknowledges the destructive effects of the fossil fuel industry and withdraws its support for it. Through this policy proposal, Cardiff University doesn’t commit to any real change’.
In addition to divestment, the student activist group has also called upon the institution for increased transparency in regards to its investment portfolio. Pickering explained that despite the confirmed £2.5 million endowments the school holds in fossil fuel companies, there is still a lack of clarity in regards to the school’s other investments.
‘It doesn’t really matter how much [Cardiff] has [invested], it’s in the millions. It’s that the school is making profits off those investments, and our goal is to get it to divest’, said Pickering, stressing the importance of the school’s commitment to divesting.
On the weekend of March 17, the university will make its final decision as regards divestment. ²