Agroup of students at the University of Exeter Penryn campus are campaigning for the university to drop its fossil fuel investments. According to Divest Penryn, the university’s endowment fund continues to hold shares worth over £2 million in fossil fuel companies.
Divest Penryn addressed an open letter to the university administration on 1 May calling for divestment from companies which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The following day, a protest planned to coincide with the Vice-Chancellor’s campus visit saw five students unfurl a banner reading “Stop Funding Climate Breakdown” from the roof of a prominent university building. Police were called, but no arrests made.
Exeposé spoke to Tallis Baker, one of the students involved in the Divest group.
Divest has been operational for a few years. Have its demands always been the same?
Yes. It’s always been asking for full, unconditional, and quick divestment from fossil fuel organisations. Exeter has quite an environmental, sustainable outlook, and that’s what it prides itself on. There are lots of IPCC researchers working at Exeter. But it’s still continuing to fund the very companies that are emitting carbon dioxide and directly causing climate change. The idea of divesting is to take away the social license of fossil fuel companies to contribute to climate change. And that’s what Exeter’s not doing.
it’s always been asking for full, unconditional, and quick divestment from fossil fuel organisations
What response to the recent action has Divest received from the university?
The first response we had was through the BBC Radio Cornwall broadcast, where [the university] said they would be happy to meet with us. The second response we’ve received, in writing, stated that they were having a new investment policy to divest from tar sands and coal, but they were leaving the rest of their investments up to the Ethical Investment Fund Manager. They were inviting us to come to an open meeting in autumn, which was not to specifically talk about divestment but to talk about this new investment and several other university issues.
How do you feel about this response?
We would like to have a more specific meeting focussing on divestment, still open so that anyone can attend. We would also like it to be earlier than autumn because it’s a really urgent issue, and the fact that they’re now rejigging their whole investment portfolio to exclude tar sands and coal means that they could easily exclude all other fossil fuel investments at the same time.
[exeter] is still continuing to fund the very companies that are emitting carbon dioxide and directly causing climate change
What’s next for Divest?
We’re currently drafting a letter to [the university] to request a much sooner meeting. If they do not agree to that, we have several other actions planned that hopefully will change their mind. We won’t know much more until we receive their reply regarding our current letter. But, yeah, just keeping the pressure up.
Would you like to see students on the other campuses putting a similar pressure on the university?
Definitely. The more pressure across a broad spectrum of campuses the better. I believe there’s already a group at the Streatham Campus called Ethical Exeter but they don’t appear to have been active for a couple of years so getting them back up and getting more cross-campus collaboration would be awesome as well.
We would like to have a more specific meeting…MUCH EARLIER THAN AUTUMN
On 13 May, Divest Penryn addressed a further letter to the University Council inviting them to an open meeting scheduled to take place in the week commencing 20 May. Sharing the letter on their Facebook page, Divest wrote: “The #ClimateCrisis is here and UoE must stop profiting from climate destruction. Now.”
A spokesperson for the university told Exeposé: “We have recently approved a new ethical investment policy after consultation with colleagues, students and alumni. We will no longer invest in producers of tobacco and organisations directly involved with the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands.
“The University of Exeter’s new fund managers, Rathbone Greenbank, who have a strong track record in the field of ethical investment, will proactively engage with companies in order to encourage them to adopt and improve standards of ethical and environmental behaviour.
“The President of our Students’ Guild was involved in the extensive selection process. The Presidents of the Students’ Guild and FXU in Cornwall will be involved in monitoring the new ethical investment policy, and students will also be on a new management group so they can have their say on the policy as it evolves over time. Senior staff will arrange a meeting with the Divest group in Cornwall as soon as possible.”