After years of student-led protests, Cardiff University is finally pulling out of its investments in the fossil fuels industry. Shortly after a meeting of the Welsh institution’s council last month, the school pledged to withdraw all of its endowments in companies engaged in fossil fuels extraction by 2021, making it the 62nd UK university to go ‘fossil free.’
Professor Stuart Palmer, chair of the school’s council, commented:
‘The move to full divestment aligns the University’s investment decisions with our values and aims, and reaffirms our commitment to environmental sustainability, responsible investment and social responsibility’.
Over the past three years, the school’s student environmentalist group Cardiff People & Planet has organized a number of demonstrations protesting their school’s endowments. These include an online petition that garnered over 1,300 signatures — a sit-in outside Vice Chancellor Colin Riordan’s office — and the vandalism of the school’s entrance hall.
Most recently, two of the group’s members went on an eight-day hunger strike, in a final effort to push the school’s council to full divestment. In the days leading up to the Council’s decision, Cardiff People & Planet President Friederike Lürken and member Lucienne Billy consumed nothing but water, vitamin pills, and tea, demanding the university withdraw from its controversial investments within three years.
‘I am going on hunger strike because this is what it apparently takes to encourage Cardiff University to meet our urgent demands’, Billy said.
Every day during the strike, Monday through Friday, Billy and Lürken sat in front of the school’s main building from noon until 1 p.m. to discuss the purpose of their action with the public.
‘Our hunger strike aims to demonstrate the urgency of immediate climate action, with fossil fuel divestment as a first step’, Billy explained. ‘It is a basic demand that has been discounted by Cardiff University for too long’.
In response, many Cardiff students — both members and non-members of the environmentalist group — went on a day-long fast out of solidarity with the two hunger strikers.
However, not all of the students’ efforts have been so well received. According to The Tab, expenses to clean the stone pillars spray-chalked by six Cardiff People & Planet activists on March 6 could be as high as £10,000. The school has not yet confirmed the full cost.
The student group has since apologized for the defacing of the entrance hall, explaining that its intention was not to cause any distress, but solely to bring attention to the school’s lack of divestment.
‘Our intention is not to disrupt the lives of our fellow students or staff, instead we are raising awareness for an important campaign. There is only one planet and the university is investing into companies that are actively destroying it’, a Cardiff People & Planet spokesperson said.
Despite the severity of some of their measures, all of them were part of the environmentalist group’s participation in the Fossil Free Campaign; a nationwide People & Planet initiative to demand universities across the UK end their economic relationships with the fossil fuels industry.
According to the People & Planet website, UK universities and colleges roughly supply £5.2 billion to the fossil fuels industry through investments. Since 2014, 61 UK universities and 2 Irish ones have agreed to divest.
At Cardiff University, student activists estimate the school has £10 million invested in fossil fuels companies like British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, comprising 4.5 per cent of the school’s investment portfolio.
Initially, the school agreed only to partially divest these funds, withdrawing investments from companies that generate more than 10 per cent of their earnings from coal and tar sands.
However, this measure was met with criticism from 142 faculty members in a letter to the Vice Chancellor. They argued that the university’s decision would not yield any results in Cardiff’s investments since the companies in which the school currently invests do not make their revenues this way.
‘Along with our pledge to phase out the use of single-use plastic by 2023 … the move to divestment sends a clear and positive message that we are committed to environmental sustainability and tackling climate change’, Riordan commented in light of the school’s recent commitment to fully divest. ‘I would like to thank all who have shared their views on this issue’.