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No Students’ Union funding for climate activists – apparently climate change is not a student issue

The Students’ Union have denied a funding request made by Sussex student activists planning to cycle to Paris for December’s momentous UN climate change conference.

The Union explained that, as a charity, they legally can “only spend money on their stated charitable purposes – in our case the furtherance of the education and welfare of Sussex students”.

Reacting to the rejection, Isabel Lincoln, MA student and organiser of the climate change bike ride, said: “It’s ridiculous that the Union says climate change doesn’t affect the welfare of students—it’s going to affect humanity!”

The eleven students will be travelling with a national group between the 7 and 13 of December, covering an average of 30 miles per day. In Paris, they will join mass protests to persuade policymakers at the 2015 UN conference to agree on a stringent international response to climate change.

To cover half the cost of the bike ride, the student activists applied for a £1,250 grant from the Students’ Union.

Lloyd Russell- Moyle, mature Sussex student and chairperson on the legal committee of a UN major group, urged the Union to do more for student welfare: “My view is the SU [should be] in the business of finding ways to support students (almost no matter what) whilst staying within the law”.

Russell-Moyle argues that, because the Charity Commission’s guide to political campaigning permits charities to engage in “political activity which supports their stated objectives”, the Union can grant funding to the student activists so long as it is clear that this is not for the purposes of affecting climate legislation but instead for the “promotion of student involvement in the wider community” or the “facilitation of political activity among its members”—language used in the SU’s Articles of Association.

Russell-Moyle said in a comment to The Badger: “There needs to be give and take on both sides. The cyclists need to ask for the right thing and not say too much; the SU needs to ask the right questions and not record information it doesn’t need so it becomes an acceptable form or funding.

“It’s a dance, but if either side refuses to play then neither can the other”.

Subsequent to Russell-Moyle’s comment, the Union consulted with their auditors and decided to uphold their decision to deny funding.

Society and Citizenship Officer Sarah Gibbons said: “I am frustrated with having to deny a group of students support in attending an event which in my opinion is the most important of our time”.

Gibbons went on to say that she feared accidentally breaking the rules might put the Students’ Union’s “existence into jeopardy”.

However, the Charity Commission says in its guidelines that, though it has remedial powers, in practice it will likely only give offending charities “robust advice for the future”.

Welfare Officer Rianna Gargiulo commented: “I absolutely think climate change affects students. However, a legal challenge to our funding regulations would be risky and costly.”

The climate activists plan to go ahead with their trip to Paris, dependent on their ability to cover costs. Organiser Isabel Lincoln told The Badger that they would be setting up JustGiving pages to fundraise.

Their planned route takes them to Newhaven, across the Channel, along the Avenue Verte cycle path and lastly through Giverny where the painter Claude Monet spent part of his life. Along the way, they will lunch with a community who fought off fracking, teach French children about climate change and sleep in an organic cider farm.

An additional 51 Sussex students will be taking the coach to Paris for the protests.

Lincoln told The Badger that, though she was disappointed in the Union, she would not be deterred: “We need civil society to be there to take back Paris and make the politicians accountable to the people they’re supposed to represent.

“There’s so little faith that the talks will deliver the response we need to tackle climate change; we need a significant decrease in our consumption and our use of fossil fuels. So far, the suggestions that have been batted around by politicians fall very short of this”.

To join the students in Paris or for information, email Isabel Lincoln: isabellincoln@gmail.com

Mark Tovey

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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