Over 50 students braved treacherous conditions to protest against the University of Sussex’s investment in fossil fuels. The event, organised by the ‘Fossil Free Sussex’ campaign, coincided with protests across the world as part of ‘Global Divestment Day’.
The campaign, which has attracted almost 850 signatures in an online petition, aims to force the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in renewable energy sources. Fossil Free Sussex claim that the University of Sussex may have as much as £400,000 invested in the coal, oil and gas industry.
The event, which took place on Friday 13th, consisted of a ‘critical mass’ of bikes cycling around campus, followed by a series of talks, culminating in a handover of the petition to the University’s Registrar John Duffy.
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, an active supporter of the divestment campaign since its inception, attended the demonstrations, saying: “I am so proud and happy that Sussex University are taking such a key and leading role in the campaign that says we need to divest our pension funds and endowment funds from the fossil fuel companies. If we are serious about tackling climate change, then we know we need to leave the majority of fossil fuels in the ground.
She added that: “Sussex can be at the forefront of a global movement. It is an amazing opportunity for the authorities at Sussex to recognise that one of the best reasons to attract people to such a great university would be to demonstrate that they put their beliefs into action, and what better way to do that than to divest funds from fossil fuels today.”
Earlier this month, Ms Lucas tabled an Early Day motion in Parliament, calling for the Government to divest pension funds from fossil fuels.
Jack Miller, campaign co-ordinator of Fossil Free Sussex, said: “What began this time last year as four or five students meeting once a month or so has become a widely-known campaign across campus, with students, faculty and alumni supporting us.”
He added: “The event went much better than expected! We were dreading the worst when the heavens opened just an hour prior, but more and more cyclists kept turning up to Library Square, and we were pleasantly surprised by how many came on foot too. It just goes to show how many people actually think that this is important.”
Peter Newell, a professor in International Relations, expressed his support for the campaign, saying: “Sussex University invests in several endowment funds, which in turn invest on the University’s behalf in a whole range of different industries and sectors, some of which are fossil fuels. Our starting point is that Sussex has a reputation for being a green university, for hosting lots of world class research on sustainability issues, and yet there is this hypocrisy at the heart of this where they are continuing to invest in fossil fuels, which are driving climate change.”
In a statement, a University spokesperson said: “Our investments are managed on behalf of our governing body (Council) through our Finance and Investments Committee. Our committees are required to have regard to charity law in the management of our investments.”
The protest comes after the University of Sussex scored 0 for ethical investment in an annual survey by People and Planet into the ethical and environmental policies of universities.
Daniel Greenberg, Students’ Union Operations Officer, said: “‘I was really impressed with the amount of students who came to get involved in Divestment Day. Fossil Free Sussex did an incredible job organising, and I hope this demonstrates to university management how important this issue is, and how strongly students feel about it.’
The Fossil Free movement was launched in 2012 in the United States, with hundreds of divestment schemes taking place at universities, cities and religious institutions across the Western world.