Universities divesting from fossil fuels – & how BCU has narrowly missed getting a ‘1st’!

Climate change is not only a pressing public health, ecological and justice concern – it’s increasingly a financial worry. With fossils fuels increasingly seen as a liability, the shift by investors away from this old technology is growing (1).

In keeping with that trend, in November 2015 I welcomed reports that BCU was in the top 16 of British universities which had started ‘divesting’ from fossil fuels. (The top 10 were divesting completely, while the fund managers for BCU and others were merely fleeing tar sands & coal (the dirtiest fuels) (2). Others have joined the trend since then, but BCU is still in the top 25% of universities who have made the move (3).

emmissions stacks
(photo: Getty Images)

People & Planet (a national network of student eco-societies) publish a ‘green league table’ of British universities, and in the 2016 results, it’s good to see BCU placed 31 out of 150 institutions (top of the list of those awarded a ‘2.1’, but frustratingly just missing out on a ‘First’) (4).

A quick look at BCU’s scorecard (below) raises an obvious question: If we are at the forefront of divestment, why did we score a zero for ‘Ethical Investment’? It turns out that People & Planet’s criteria depend largely on being able to audit an institution’s published policies, including an Ethical Investment policy. BCU had not yet published one, so that counted against us. Interestingly, had it been published, our partial divestment would have counted for a score of 5% – possibly enough to push us up into a ‘First’ next time?

It seems that BCU management may be addressing this in the near future, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to report even better news soon…

BCU 2.1 green league 2016
Birmingham City University People & Planet University League 2016 Scorecard :
1. Environmental Sustainability; Policy and Strategy 100
2. Human Resources for Sustainability 40
3. Environmental Auditing & Management Systems 100
4. Ethical Investment 0
5. Carbon Management 35
6. Workers Rights 15
7. Sustainable Food 60
8. Staff and Student Engagement 20
9. Education for Sustainable Development 35
10. Energy Sources 31
11. Waste and Recycling 76
12. Carbon Reduction 78
13. Water Reduction 50

1) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fossil-fuel-divestment_us_584ee51de4b0bd9c3dfdbce8
2) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/10/ten-uk-universities-divest-from-fossil-fuels
3) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/22/fossil-fuel-divestment-soars-in-uk-universities
4) https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league-2016-tables

Aldo Mussi is a Tutor & Activist in Health Promotion/Public Health at Birmingham City University
and Environment Rep for the Universities and Colleges Union branch at BCU.

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