Oxford University has finally divested from fossil fuel companies — everything you need to know

What is divestment? Why does it matter? What makes this decision by Oxford University particularly significant? What can I do to support divestment by other organisations?

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  • Until recent years, Oxford University held a significant amount of wealth in funds supporting fossil fuel companies, most recently priced at £3.3 billion — all now withdraw.
  • They’re actually going further than just divesting, having made a commitment to actively engage with companies and funds on their net-zero plans.
  • Oxford University holds prestige in the educational world and in the media as a centre of excellence and thought leadership, and their decision to divest will likely influence other universities to do the same.
  • The role of money in climate change is a topic that, unfortunately, doesn’t get much coverage. Hopefully, the press coverage will mean that more individuals start to think about how to be a climate activist with our money — where we keep our savings is important, and many of us are inadvertently supporting fossil fuel companies with them.

What even is divestment?

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Oxford University’s history of investing in fossil fuels

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What did their divestment motion include?

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  1. Divest from all existing direct investments in fossil fuel companies
  2. Ban any future investments in funds which primarily hold stock in fossil fuel companies
  3. Actively engage with all companies across Oxford University’s entire portfolio of investment, requesting evidence of their plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

“Oxford has led the world on research on net-zero in science, finance and economics, and we have shown leadership and creativity in our position on net-zero with employers of Oxford graduates. It is excellent that we are also taking a logical and hard-nosed approach to the impact of our endowment. The proposed combination of divestment and engagement around net-zero is more powerful than either strategy alone.”

— Prof. Cameron Hepburn, Professor of Environmental Economics at Oxford University

Beyond divestment — requiring active engagement

“The financial sector has a crucial role in either sustaining the status quo or aiding the transition to a net-zero carbon world.”

— from the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate Conscious Invrestment

  1. The company commits to net-zero emissions, and their public statements and other engagements also advance this message.
  2. The company has a plan for a profitable net-zero business model, as well as a timeline for adapting to this.
  3. The company can supply quantitative (i.e. numbers) of their medium-term targets for their movement to net-zero, so that investors can actively monitor their actions against their words.

“Crucially, Oxford is proposing to engage with companies to assess their net-zero strategies: this is not a responsibility that we can outsource.”

— Myles Allen, Oxford Professor and Lead IPCC Author

What you can do to continue this momentum

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  1. Look at your own savings portfolio, and consider swapping to ethical and sustainable banks if you aren’t already.
  2. Consider investing positively in organisations who are working to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy, such as the Low Carbon Hub in Oxford.
  3. Share this news with your own employer, and encourage them to look at their own investment portfolio. This is especially timely if you’re part of a university or research centre, but it’s important for all organisations.
  4. Support campaigns in other cities and countries through the gofossilfree campaign — which Oxford’s Climate Justice Campaign is part of.

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