Why Durham needs to divest from fossil fuels

This year, a key focus for Durham Young Greens will be the burgeoning campaign to get Durham to divest from fossil fuels. The campaign has had some notable successes so far.A petition begun by Durham’s (non-political) branch of People and Planet has already collected over a thousand signatures, the campaign has the support of the DSU, and only one college JCR is yet to table a divestment motion. St Chad’s JCR recently became the first to pass such a motion, and we hope more colleges will do so very soon. Ten more UK universities divested in recent weeks; globally, over 2000 institutions and 400 individuals have divested, together amounting to £2.6tn transferred out of fossil fuel. (1)

The Greens believe that it is hypocritical for a university to invest in fossil fuels when the academic consensus consistently cites greenhouse gas emissions as a primary cause of global warming. This rise in global temperatures can sometimes seem an abstract issue, but is likely to abruptly incur into daily life in the not-so-distant future. The evidence is as overwhelming as it is disturbing. In 2011, scientists cautioned that if high-carbon electricity generation continued to be utilised at current rates, then holding temperature rises at a ‘safe’ level would be impossible after 2017; in 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, after synthesising 12,000 studies, that the effects of temperature rises were already being felt, and are likely to be irreversible; while the UN Development Program has warned that emissions need to decrease by 50% by 2050, as opposed to the 100% rise in the next half century predicted by the International Energy Agency.

This evidence cannot be ignored or shrugged off. With lumbering predictability sceptics point to unfortunate incidents like the statistical manipulation at UEA, but to imagine that this invalidates the entire case would be completely irrational. It is happening, the administrators of Durham University must be aware that it is happening; in these circumstances to have £4.5 million invested in fossil fuels seems to us to be desperately misguided. Of course the quality of student experience is vital: BP fund doctoral programs, while fossil fuel corporations allegedly provide ‘soft-money’ to certain Durham departments for field trips and other expenses. We do not want to see students lose out, but nor do we believe it would be impossible for the university to find less controversial sources of funding. At the very least, there must be more student consultation. The new Vice-Chancellor has shown himself open to the aims the campaign; at a meeting last Tuesday (November 11th) he agreed that the university’s money was – substantially – our money. He wants to see clear student demand for divestment, and it is with this goal the Greens will be campaigning over the forthcoming year.

We don’t see this as a party political issue, and would love to get other parties and non-political groups involved in the campaign. A plurality of voices is needed to convince the university’s establishment of the merits of divestment. The JCR motions are an important step, and we will continue campaigning along with People and Planet to raise the profile of divestment. Hopefully we will see real progress on this vital issue in the coming year.

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