Universities are financing the climate crisis. Students are changing that!
In 2022 UCT committed to divest from fossil fuels after an eight year long campaign led by students. This proves that students have the power to campaign for university leadership to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in local renewable energy infrastructure.
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FOSSIL FREE UCT
University of Cape Town
Since UCT’s Council announced its decision to divest from fossil fuels, they have since made progress on that commitment. Now students have moved their sights to researching other ways fossil fuels are embedded at the university, and to see if there are further ways the university can disassociate from fossil fuel interests.
FOSSIL FREE STELLENBOSCH
Fossil Free Stellenbosch is an active student-led campaign led by EcoMaties that began in 2015. The campaign now has active student leadership, alongside a newly launched petition and news updates. Currently the campaign is looking to increase pressure on SU’s investment committee who declined to meet in 2022.
FOSSIL FREE WITS
The Wits Divestment campaign was initially spearheaded by academics, launched with a position statement on WITS and the climate crisis. The statement was in response to a request by for inputs from staff and students on the new 10 year strategy. Now the campaign is finding ways to continue within the student body.
SOCIAL LEADERSHIP, MORAL CONSISTENCY, SUPPORTING RESEARCH
Why SA universities should divest and disassociate from fossil fuels
Universities are the institutions that lead most research outlining the scale and severity of the climate crisis. Many universities have their own pools of invested capital (money), their endowments, which are still invested in fossil fuel companies like Sasol and Exxaro. Universities can choose to take their money out of these investments and reinvest it in more sustainable alternatives. You can read more about why divestment is important, and some of the most frequently asked questions about it, here.
Universities that continue to invest in fossil fuels despite the consensus of science and their own researchers are undermining that research and creating public confusion – it’s reasonable for the public at large to think climate change isn’t really so much of a problem if supposed centres of research and insight don’t care enough about the issue to stop investments that make it worse.
University pension fund investments in fossil fuels also arguably create a conflict of interest for researchers – they could be said to have an interest in downplaying the impacts of fossil fuels in order to preserve the values of their pensions, as Wits public health professor Matthew Chersich has pointed out.
Universities can also choose to disassociate from fossil fuel companies when it comes to how research is conducted and bursaries are created. For example, a key moment coming up soon is that Cambridge University will vote on its ties to the fossil fuel industry. There are also groups such as Fossil Free Research, a coalition of activists and researchers from US, UK and European universities researching the links between their institutions and lobbying for ending fossil fuel influence. Pledges of disassociation can be organised institute by institute and faculty by faculty, building momentum for a university-wide campaign/pledge. You can read more about this on this Defossilising Universities post on our Substack.