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University’s proposed investment policy change is “progress”, say anti-fossil fuel campaigners

Fossil Free Sussex, a student group lobbying the University to drop its fossil fuel-related shares, demonstrated in Library Square on 12 February by criss-crossing the area with red ribbons. 

The ribbons represented the group’s desire to see the earth’s climate remain behind the red line, or within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

Aiming for anything above that target would cause “big, big trouble”, according to a quote in the Guardian from the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). 

Bevis Longstreth, former Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), argues that fossil fuel exploration companies are “vastly overvalued in their trading markets”.

According to this argument, these companies’ shares are being priced with the expectation that world governments will fail to meet global warming targets. Bevis Longstreth says this is a risky bet, and Fossil Free Sussex say it is an unethical one too.

5% of the University’s £8 million investment fund is currently tied up in fossil fuel exploration companies like Shell, BP and Rio Tinto.

The University set up a working group last year, headed by Union President Abe Baldry and University employees, to research the feasibility of excluding fossil fuel-related firms from its portfolio. It already has a policy of excluding the shares of tobacco and arms companies.

However, according to sources close to Abe Baldry, the working group concluded last week that there were not any suitable funds immediately available, and that divestment would therefore have to wait. 

The working group will suggest that the University commit itself to divesting its shares in fossil fuel-related companies as soon as an environmentally friendly fund, which suits the University’s other needs, pops up. 

This commitment needs to be voted past the University’s Finance and Investment Committee, before it can ultimately be accepted or rejected by the University’s Council, which is populated by management bods and representatives from different schools. 

Jack Miller, PhD student and Fossil Free Sussex member, said he would be pleased with a promise to divest from fossil fuels in the future, describing it as “progress”. However, he told The Badger he had doubts about whether or not the proposal would make it over the first hurdle – the Finance and Investment Committee will decide the proposal’s fate on Friday 4th of March. Fossil Free Sussex are planning another demonstration to mark the date. 

The University commented: “Given the University of Sussex’s charitable status, any investments which are made by the institution need to comply with the relevant laws and meet certain criteria. The stocks and shares, which make up the University’s fund, are held for the medium to long term and any decisions to change strategy would need to be carefully considered to ensure the value of the University’s assets were not jeopardised”.

Mark Tovey & Jess Schofield 

Photo credit: Sussex in Transition

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