Divestment activists lock themselves to Old College gates as occupation continues

Divestment activists locked themselves to the front gates of The University of Edinburgh’s Old College this afternoon, in the latest public demonstration against the University’s current fossil fuel investment policy.

Three activists from the Edinburgh branch of People & Planet affixed bicycle locks around their necks and through the bars of the building’s main gate, under a sign reading Edinburgh Uni Fossil Free. The trio blanketed themselves in a hand painted banner calling for full divestment, spending two hours interacting with passersby as University security members kept watch.

The move came as People & Planet’s occupation of the Charles Stewart building entered its fourth day. Despite rallies, demonstrations, several national news articles and support from local politicians, the University’s response has been muted, activists say, prompting a desire for greater action.

“At the moment we’ve had no response from management pretty much,” Ellie Jones, a spokesperson for the group who participated in the demonstration, told The Student. “So we really needed something where they can’t ignore it and we thought this would be something that would get their attention.”

Chief among the protesters’ demands is a commitment by the University to fully divest from companies involved in fossil fuels, a move the protesters argue would send a symbolic message in the face of climate change. Pressure from activists and a subsequent ten-day occupation last spring helped secure a commitment to withdraw investments “where alternative energy sources were available,” and spurred the withdrawal of several multi-million pound investments in leading oil companies such as Rio Tinto and Royal Dutch Shell.

But activists argue the efforts have not been extensive enough, and have pointed to two companies still in the University’s portfolio, Apache Incorporated and EOG Resources, as targets for further divestment. Even as the University has withdrawn funds from Shell and other companies, it has increased investments in Apache and EOG, according to figures acquired by Freedom of Information and reviewed by The Student.

The protesters  have also called for greater transparency and stronger advertisement by the University of the divestments it has already made, such as its commitment in September to divesting from all companies with investments or ties to arms production.

Speaking on the locking demonstration, Jones said that the decision was made in an effort to add diversity and grab attention.

“I think changing tactics a bit is quite a good thing, because obviously we’ve done an occupation before,” she told The Student. “We’ve done things like pickets and actions, but we’ve never done this before. So I think using lots of different kind of tactics is probably something that would make them a little bit more wary about it.”

Emma Scott, a first year member of People & Planet who also chained herself to the gate, said the demonstration elicited a positive response in general.

“A lot of the general public really seemed to get involved,” she told The Student. “There was a lot of support for it as well, especially from other people.”

Jones agreed. “The security seemed to be very much on edge,” she said. “But the response from the public was really good. Normally when you’re flying you have to force it on people, but this time people were asking for flyers. It was really good and really supportive.”

In a statement responding to Thursday’s demonstration, the University acknowledged the incident and said that it valued the safety of its students.

“We are aware of the incident,” the statement read. “The safety of our staff and students is of the utmost importance. The University supports the right of all students to protest lawfully and peacefully.”

It continued: “In line with our responsible investment policy, which was formulated in consultation with staff and students, we do not invest in companies involved in the highest carbon-emitting industries.”

“We are committed to using our finances to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.”

Image: Jacob Forsyth-Davies

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