Divestment is a progressive step for the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh’s recent decision to fully divest from fossil fuels within the next three years is essential to the institution’s reputation.

After a long student-led campaign, this announcement proved a great achievement for the University of Edinburgh’s Students’ Association and the student-led society, People & Planet, successfully creating a positive image of students’ opinions being reflected in the university’s decisions. This divestment is in line with the university’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2040, as previously it had only made a partial commitment to divest from the most harmful fossil fuels.

Considering the university’s leading position at the forefront of climate-based research and development of technologies to alleviate climate change, the decision to cut ties entirely with fossil fuel companies is imperative to the sustainable activity it promotes. Its aspirations of low carbon usage are already noticeable through initiatives on campus; for example, recycling bins and the promotion of the ‘Keepcup’ as an eco-friendly alternative to paper coffee cups. On a larger scale, since 2010, the university has invested more than £150 million in climate-based research.

Subsequently, the agreement to fully divest from fossil fuels was the obvious next step. A phrase which comes to mind is ‘practice what you preach’; if the university were to continue investing in fossil fuels, it would be hypocritical, considering its sustainable policies and environmentally innovative reputation.

Reassuringly, this decision proves that the University Court is listening to students when it comes to large-impact decisions. This is great news for societies such as Amnesty, Edinburgh University Sustainable Development Association, People & Planet and the Green Party, to name a few groups who aim to influence the university’s decisions on environmental issues.

This crucial decision places us ahead of the many other UK universities who have not yet committed to a full divestment from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, many universities – despite their on-campus environmental initiatives – are still investing in fossil fuel companies. With the third largest endowment fund in the UK, the University of Edinburgh is now the largest endowment to be completely free from fossil fuel investment. Hopefully Edinburgh’s decision will encourage universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and Manchester, who still invest in fossil fuels, to also commit to a full divestment.

Edinburgh’s decision is admirable as fossil fuels are a bad investment for both financial and ethical reasons. This move gives the impression that the university values ethics and the environment above making money from unethical investments.

It is important to note that, because fossil fuels are dying out and alternative renewable energy sources are on the rise, there will not be a great financial loss because the most beneficial investment is in renewable energy. If we want to move forward into a greener society and combat climate change, we need to cut ties with backwards, unethical companies and prioritise the sustainable reputation of the institution.

The University of Edinburgh aims to prevent climate change. Its on-campus environmental initiatives and renowned climate-related research is now supported by its commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

Amongst other universities, there needs to be a movement towards more ethical investment choices which, in the long-term, will be financially beneficial and support the ‘green’ image they aspire to promote.

Image: Global Panorama via Flickr

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