Strathclyde officially divests from fossil fuels after last year’s ‘climate victory’

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By Clara Castrillo

Strathclyde University has taken first steps towards making last year’s climate policy and its target to become carbon neutral by 2040 reality.

The University previously extended its climate policy by making plans to officially commit to a divestment from fossil fuels. In line with this divestment policy and a “five-year plan,” the University has transferred approximately 7% of its investment portfolio to a sustainable fund portfolio managed by Newton Investment Management.  Any investments made through this new investment fund will seek to support companies that positively manage the material impacts of their operations and products on the environment and society. It will also exclude companies that violate or are deemed incompatible with the 10 UN Global Compact principles.

Speaking in September 2020, Steven Wallace – Chief Financial Officer of Strathclyde – said: “The University of Strathclyde recognises and is fully aware of its responsibilities towards tackling climate change. We are committed to implementing a responsible investment strategy that takes account of a range of environmental, social and governance issues to inform the University’s investment portfolio.”

Prior to last year’s announcement by the University, some institutions such as the The Wellcome Trust, argued that engagement with fossil fuel companies was a more effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Strathclyde’s announcement to divest from fossil fuels came after months of campaigning from students and other activists and at the time was described as a “major climate victory.” 

Strath Union President Kayla-Megan Burns was at the forefront of the campaign.  When asked about the reasons behind the push for Strathclyde to divest, she said: “Removing money from the fossil fuel industry is one of the easiest ways to remove their power which is a key aspect in tackling climate issues.

“Longevity was a critical part about our campaign though, as we wanted to make sure that we made an immediate impact, but also that this would be committed to properly, and could evolve with time, so as a result we did actually ‘invest to divest.’ This meant that we didn’t actually create a blacklist of companies which we couldn’t invest in, but rather that we would only invest in companies which met a specific, sustainable criteria so that it could encourage positive change at the same time – so really it was a double win.”

The Divest Strathclyde campaign lasted two years and saw a meld of students and student officers come together to organise protests. “A lot of hard work went into the campaign to get this change and a lot of consideration into how we could work with the University in order to achieve it”, Burns describes: “The Principal himself stated that one of the things that really made him jump into action on the climate front was seeing a group of our students protesting outside of his window, and honestly I just remember that day with total fondness. The sun was belting, we had our banners and had organised some chants – a picture taken on the day is still my profile picture.”

Burns is currently working on a Climate Change and Social Responsibility Plan with the University, as well as a Union Sustainability Plan with Strath Union – both of which she hopes will “really get down into the specifics so that no stone will be left unturned” to ensure that all of Strathclyde’s institutions are “fully accountable” for their impact.

Looking towards the future, a spokesperson of the University confirmed its pledge to cut carbon emissions by 70% by 2025 as part of a drive towards net zero by 2040 or earlier. They said that the University is “looking forward to welcoming COP26 to the city” and that in an attempt to “accelerate the journey to net-zero” a COP26 Advisory Group – including representatives from the Student Union, academics, and professional services staff – was created last year.