UEA: FOSSIL FREE AT LAST

by Lewis Martin, on behalf of Fossil Free UEA

I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but after 4 long years of campaigning, UEA has finally divested from fossil fuels. People and Planet UEA received the following statement from the University yesterday:

“Over the past 50 years UEA’s researchers have played a leading role globally in developing the science and understanding of climate change and links with carbon emissions. The University remains committed to reducing its own carbon emissions and is investing £6.5million to reduce our carbon footprint from 23,000 tonnes to 12,800 tonnes by 2020. We can confirm that UEA does not have any investments in fossil fuel companies.”*

This comes after years of incredibly hard work from many activists who have devoted huge amounts of time and effort to the Fossil Free campaign. When the campaign started, UEA had around £130k invested in the fossil fuel companies BHP Billington, Rio Tinto and Royal Dutch Shell, and went on to invest in the BP Group in the intervening years. Climate change continues to be the biggest challenge the world faces today. The actions that drive it can no longer be normalised. By calling out the companies that continue to profit from exploiting the  world’s natural resources, and by attacking their reputation and revenues through divestment, we can have a significant impact in the continued fight to combat and mitigate disastrous climate change. UEA is now, at last, putting its money where its mouth is and throwing its weight in on the right side of this struggle.

This campaign shows is that student campaigns can still achieve great things despite adversity from those higher up in the university management. Throughout years of campaigning we were stonewalled by successive Vice Chancellors and their staff as they cynically bought time in the hope that we would give up. Now, no doubt, they will not acknowledge the role of the campaign in forcing their hand – perhaps they will attempt to rewrite their history of investment in fossil fuels as they did the campus biomass debacle. Despite this contempt we refused to be ignored, continuing to use a range of methods including direct actions such as occupations, banner drops, and satirical sculpture to keep the pressure on. We have escalated the campaign as the years have come on, and it’s fantastic to see all that work pay off.

“I welcome the news of UEA’s complete divestment from fossil fuels. Climate change cannot be defeated through individual action; collective change is needed to overcome the difficulties it presents … UEA’s claims to be a green university are now much less hypocritical”

Alison Graham, former co-chair, People & Planet UEA

At a time where student unions are starting to roll back their commitments to direct action and campaigning, wins such as this one show that these methods are crucial if we are to make the change that is needed in the higher education sector. NUS’s recent moves against backing the November 15th Free Education Demo shows short-sightedness surrounding the role of direct action, both on our campuses and and more nationally. Direct action is key to creating a dialogue about injustice and change. Without it we will see the exploitation of students and the wider public continue. Without it those who have a vested interest in running higher education institutions as for-profit businesses will face no resistance.

“It’s fantastic that UEA has chosen to divest from the fossil fuel industry after years of sustained campaigning from activists at UEA and widespread support for the campaign from both students and staff. It’s shameful that it took almost 4 years for UEA management to admit this course of action is the one that is morally right, and we hope that in future UEA will be quicker to make decisions that benefit our collective future.”

Helen Mallett, Fossil Fuel UEA activist

Now UEA has taken this leap to full divestment, the next step to truly living up to its claims of being a green institution would be a commitment to never invest in fossil fuels again. It must sign up to the People and Planet Fossil Free Declaration, following the precedent set by other universities such as Winchester and Cumbria. For now though, we can celebrate that UEA has finally managed to join the 54 other UK universities and colleges that have contributed to over £10 billion being divested from the fossil fuel industry. This is a huge milestone not only for us as campaigners but also for wider society. Without collective campaigns such as this, the fight to save our planet and secure the rights of the people who live on it would already be lost.

*Editor’s note: UEA’s statement is yet to be independently confirmed.

Featured image via Fossil Free UEA, credit Cadi Cliff Photography


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