OXFORD, England, May 12, 2020 (ENS) – Oxford University has announced its new plan to divest formally from the fossil fuel industry. The oldest university in the English-speaking world, teaching for nearly 1,000 years, Oxford has been reducing its investments in fossil fuel companies and increasing its investments in more sustainable endeavors.

Following many heartfelt student-led campaigns and protests in Oxford and in London, Oxford’s 5,500 member governing body, the Congregation, passed a resolution late last month requiring the university to cut all ties with fossil fuel firms and end future investment in these companies.

Rivka Micklethwaite, an engineering study at Oxford’s Balliol College and a member of the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, said, “I support divestment because we have to show fossil fuel companies that their behaviour is irresponsible, unethical, and needs to stop. Oxford University’s reputational power would make its divestment from fossil fuels symbolic.”

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Oxford University students protest the institution’s fossil fuel investments. Oxford, England, Feb. 15, 2019 (Photo by Alan Sawyer)

The decision to divest was agreed among stakeholders across the university, including the Student Union, other student-led organizations, academic researchers and the Oxford University Endowment Management office, OUem, which manages over £3 billion (US$3.67 billion) worth of investments for the university in the Oxford Endowment Fund.

As well as divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies, the university has also asked OUem to request that fund managers provide evidence of net-zero carbon business plans across their entire portfolios.

There will be a new member of the Investment Committee, with experience of both endowment management and climate-conscious investment.

Oxford’s approach is based on its own academic research on climate-conscious business practices, the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment.

These principles provide a framework for engagement between climate-conscious investors and companies across the world, helping them assess whether investments are compatible with a transition to a more stable climate and the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which takes effect later this year.

Professor Louise Richardson, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said, “Oxford is a global pioneer in many areas of environmental research and science, from climate economics to biodiversity, energy use, and climate change modeling. I am very grateful to all the staff and students who came together to develop this new and exciting agreement on investment which I warmly welcome.”

“Coupled with our research strengths, our new approach will enhance our position as a world leader in reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change before it is too late,” said Richardson.

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Oxford Vice Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson (Photo courtesy Oxford University)

Announcing the divestment decision, the Oxford University Council noted OUem’s work to date in reducing the endowment’s exposure to fossil fuels to very low levels, below that of many other institutions.

Since 2007, OUem investment in the energy sector has declined from an estimated 8.5 percent of the endowment to 2.6 percent. This includes renewable energy and just 0.6 percent of the endowment is now in fossil fuel extractors.

In addition, OUem has made investments in solutions to climate change and in sustainability.

Sandra Robertson, who heads the endowment management office, said, “OUem has been actively managing the Oxford Endowment Fund over the past decade to ensure that, as an investor, we are part of the solution to climate change and sustainability.”

“The Fund is a globally diversified portfolio of investments, chosen to make returns over the long term in a sustainable manner,” Robertson said. “We will continue our deep engagement with the investment groups in the Fund, and further encourage them to move to a Net Zero world across their portfolios of companies.”

The university is developing its own new environmental sustainability strategy, giving further impetus to its commitment to cutting carbon emissions. The strategy will be published later this year.

Professor Cameron Hepburn, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment, said, “This is not mere divestment; this is a commitment to divestment plus engagement, according to the Oxford Martin Principles, to help accelerate progress towards net-zero emissions.”

Said Hepburn, “It is right that Oxford’s leadership on the science, economics, and finance of the transition to net-zero emissions should be consistent with how we invest our endowment.”

Almost all of Britain’s top universities have pledged to at least partially divest from fossil fuels following years of campaigning by students.

The scale of Oxford’s fossil fuel investment had been far greater than any UK university other than Cambridge, which has yet to announce a divestment policy.

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