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Students press University of Glasgow to divest from fossil fuels, 2013-2014
Approximately ninety-seven percent of publishing climate scientists agreed that climate change was occurring in 2013, and that the primary cause was human activities. If the planet was to remain within safe levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and maintain temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, four-fifths of the known fossil fuel reserves needed to stay in the ground and not be burned. However, if fossil fuel industries continued to burn all of what they had in their reserves, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere would rise to five times the safe amount. The divestment movement wanted to take away financial support in the forms of investment funds, bonds, and stocks from fossil fuel industries, and to socially and politically stigmatized fossil fuel companies through publically removing funds.
By 2013, the fossil fuel divestment movement had spread to over 300 college and university campuses. In October 2013, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and GreanPeace International’s Executive director Kumi Naidoo led a campaign called Fossil Free Europe, with the intention to spread the fossil fuel divestment movement throughout Europe. Bill McKibben stated during the tour and at other speeches, “Wherever we go, people are coming to the same conclusion: if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage.” 350.org partnered with People & Planet and Operation Noah in the United Kingdom and helped to launch divestment campaigns at universities throughout the U.K.
At the University of Glasgow, the Glasgow University Climate Action Society (GUCA) partnered with People & Planet to urge the University of Glasgow university to divest their endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel industries companies, ranked by their size of reserves. The University of Glasgow had invested approximately 18 million pounds of their endowment in fossil fuel industries.
A few years earlier on 1 November 2011, the University of Glasgow signed the Environmental Association of Universities and College’s initiative, ‘Universities and Colleges Climate Change Commitment for Scotland’ (UCCCfS), publicly declaring their commitment to reduce their carbon footprints and address climate change. All of Scotland’s universities and colleges signed this declaration, with the intention of achieving a significant decrease in their carbon emissions. University of Glasgow organizers held that their commitment to decreasing carbon emissions should be reflected in their investments by divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel industries.
GUCA students held the first action of the Glasgow University divestment campaign on 30 September 2013. GUCA showed a video called “Do the Math” created by 350.org to spread understanding of the need for divestment. The movie followed Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist fighting the fossil fuel industry, and introduced the effects of fossil fuel on climate change. The movie also outlined the amount of fossil fuels that must not be extracted and burned to avoid climate change catastrophe.
In early November of 2013, GUCA launched a petition drive calling on the University to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel industries over the following five years and to stop any new investments in the fossil fuel industry. Later in November, GUCA held a “Make Fossil Fuels Extinct” event, during which activists dressed in dinosaur hoods to emphasize the threat of extinction by global warming. During the event, GUCA members took over fifty photos of students who supported the campaign with a sign saying “Glasgow Uni—Divest from Fossil Fuels.” The sign displayed a symbol an orange “X,” the logo of the campaign for Fossil Free Europe.
GUCA presented a proposal to the Glasgow University Student’s Representative Council (SRC) on 5 December 2013 that asked them to support divestment of the University’s endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. The SRC responded by officially supporting the divestment campaign. They also committed to lobbying the university to divest from fossil fuels, lobbying Career Services for more ethical career advice, and working with GUCA and People & Planet on the divestment campaign at University of Glasgow.
Because the University of Glasgow signed the UCCCfS, publically declaring their intention to decrease their carbon emissions, the SRC held that the University of Glasgow’s commitment to tackling climate change should extend into the university's investments, and that the university should serve as a role model in society by helping create a safe future for everybody.
The University Court was the organizing body that would decide whether or not the university should divest, and in order to be considered by the court, divestment needed the approval of the SRC. The motion was passed in the SRC, and went on to be heard by the University Court.
On Valentine’s Day in 2014, GUCA organized a “STOP in the name of Love” event asking the university to “break-up” with the fossil fuel industry. They solicited more petition signatures and took photos of students in support of divestment. Later in February, GUCA created a panel discussion with professors, academics, and students on whether or not Universities should invest in the fossil fuel industry. The petition received over 100 signatures at that event. In March, the names on the petition were threaded through with a string and presented to David Newall, the Secretary of the University Court.
Glasgow University Court created a working group called the Glasgow University Advisory Committee to consider the case for divestment, and at their first meeting, GUCA and student supporters of divestment held a silent demonstration holding signs outside the meeting as the members walked in. Four members of the Fossil Free Europe campaign attended this meeting as well. As the Court considered divestment, GUCA created another photo campaign featuring the Class of 2014 with a sign saying “Make my Degree Fossil Free.” The Glasgow University Court stated that their decision on fossil fuel divestment would be announced on 25 June 2014, but the announcement was later pushed back until October 2014.
In September, GUCA wrote an open letter to the University that called on the University Court to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel industries, and the students asked University professors and staff to sign the letter. They also began the academic year with a second showing of “Do the Math,” the movie created by 350.org.
GUCA created their own video to promote awareness on campus and asked people to join their demonstration on 7 October 2014, the day before the University Court announced their decision over whether or not to divest the university endowment. On 7 October, GUCA held their demonstration with a mock oil spill, signs, a large banner, and announcers using loud-hailers calling on the university to divest.
On 8 October 2014, the University of Glasgow Court decided to begin divesting the approximately 18 million pounds invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies and free new investments in the fossil fuel industry across its entire endowment of 128 million pounds. The University of Glasgow became the first university in Europe to divest from fossil fuels.