Religious group with £21 million in stock market promises to review investments in oil, coal and gas
By Sophie Yeo
Quakers are the latest group to sign up to divest their money from the fossil fuel industry, as the US-led campaign spreads into Britain.
The religious group has £21 million invested in the stock market, with 3.85% of this going towards fossil fuel companies Statoil and BG Group. The trustees who oversee the investments have announced that they will review their entire investment policy.
The divestment campaign is part of a growing movement to convince organisations to remove public money from the fossil fuel industry, on the grounds that it is both financially unsustainable as tightening climate legislation means that reserves cannot be extracted, as well as being morally unacceptable.
The UK movement is based on a US campaign led by Bill McKibben and 350.org. Since its inception, six colleges and universities have committed to divest, along with 17 cities, two counties, 11 religious institutions, three foundations and two other institutions.
People and Planet
People and Planet, a student-led campaign group, are also leading a nationwide campaign to get universities to divest from fossil fuels.
Louise Hazan, who is leading the Fossil Free campaign at People and Planet, said: “We congratulate the Quakers on taking this bold but necessary decision to divest from fossil fuels.
“It’s an important recognition that institutions such as churches and universities that are committed to tackling the climate crisis cannot continue to profit from their investments in the companies doing the most to wreck the climate.
“The Quaker’s decision today sets the Fossil Free UK movement well and truly in motion and we expect to see many more institutions following suit within the next few weeks and months.”
The People and Planet campaign is targeting 19 UK universities. Combined, UK universities have a total of £9 billion in endowment funds.
Last week, a report from the University of Oxford found that divestment campaigns could pose a significant threat to the fossil fuel industry, not because of the money that it diverts, which remains relatively small, but because of the stigma it imposes on the companies targeted.
Ben Caldecott, who co-authored the report, told RTCC: “One of the things which is possibly significant about a student campaign like this is it’s going to make it much harder for fuel companies to get bright young graduates, so the stigma attached to these companies will impact them in ways like that.”
Hazan told RTCC that the findings of the report were closely aligned with how they are approaching the campaign. She told RTCC: “£9 billion sounds like a lot of money, but when you’re talking about a US$4 trillion industry it’s quite a small amount. The campaign is very much about raising awareness about the role of fossil fuel companies.
“We’re hoping that by getting some really large well respected institutions like the University of Oxford or Cambridge or Edinburgh to publicly pull out their money and say, ‘We know that investing in companies that are fuelling the climate crisis is the wrong thing to do,’ that that will trigger a much wider awareness and hopefully lead to much larger institutions as well pulling their money out.”
Caldecott added that the success of the campaign depended on whether the institution was credible, who is involved in the institution, and how much its endowment actually amounts to.
“In the UK, just on the last thing, Oxford and Cambridge dominate,” he says. “So if a university divestment campaign is going to be focused anywhere, it’s really got to be focused on Oxford and Cambridge, frankly.”
Data collected in the report shows that Oxford and Cambridge have endowments of £3995 million and £3752 million respectively, compared to Edinburgh – the third largest endowment fund – which has just £238 million.
“But the other thing is, how do these ideas, these memes spread, and how networked are certain institutions?” adds Caldecott.
“So if the entire student body of a well-networked prestigious university are convinced by a particular hypothesis, it’s likely they’ll have more of an impact than an unknown smaller institution that wasn’t well networked to the political economy of a country or the world.”