Divestment Dinosaurs: dispatches from the Oxford divestment campaign

Monday 13-06-2016 - 10:59

When I talk to people about divestment at Oxford, I’m often met with the response: “Oh, they divested didn’t they?” Short answer: no. The long answer is a bit more complicated. It involves far too many university committees, bureaucratic riddles, economic waffle… oh and a 15ft dinosaur.

a guest blog from Cara Turton-Chambers of Oxford University Fossil Free Group

The Oxford University Fossil Free group started campaigning on divestment about three years ago. We submitted a paper to our Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee (SRIRC) and it all looked promising. The paper was passed up the chain of committees and finally got to the people at the top - to University Council. Sadly there it was very quickly shut down by the ex- (thankfully) Vice Chancellor.

Out came their statement: “Council has asked OUem [Oxford University Endowment Management] to maintain this position and avoid any future direct investments in coal and oil sands.”

It’s a funny word, “direct”, and we are still not totally sure what it means, but what we do know is that Oxford moved none of its money. They are still investing in fossil fuels. To be honest, nobody was particularly hopeful when we found out the big divestment decision meeting was going to be held in the Thatcher Business Education Centre.

Our current understanding is that all their investments are ‘indirect‘ and so any statement on direct investments from the university is meaningless.

So what now? Great question, and if you have any ideas please let me know. We are still in conversation with SRIRC- but that seems a bit pointless given that the people who manage Oxford’s money (OUEM) refuse to meet with Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee. Not that we’re bitter…

We recently wrote a motion to show how hypocritical the statement Oxford released was. They claim to use the latest research in monitoring of carbon exposure but still invest in fossil fuels. They claim to be world leaders in the fight against climate change but still invest in fossil fuels – you get the picture. Their investments in fossil fuels are in line with the national average.

The committee we submitted our motion to, said this wasn’t their mandate to talk about, so it got passed in the Oxford committee ether, before it was eventually decided, weeks later, that it was in fact the mandate of the committee we gave it to in the first place. So they have informed us they will discuss that matter in July, just after term ends.

We’ve got the message loud and clear: Oxford doesn’t care about its students or climate change.

But we’re not giving up. We’re looking at targeting the donations Oxford gets from fossil fuel companies. We’re thinking about new ways of framing the divestment message that is more palatable to the university. Our most recent motion asks the university to adjust their investment policy in line with all of the “world leading” things they say they can do.

Though I think we’re all pretty fed up with strategy meetings and incredibly fed up with the Oxford system, we keep going - because we know we’ll be on the winning side, in the end.

Looking round the world (from the safety of my Facebook newsfeed) and seeing all the Break Free actions last month just goes to show it can be done and how far we have come in the last 3 years. Not just as Oxford University Fossil Free but as a whole divestment movement.

The fight gets easier from here on in. NUS’ recent Divest-Invest resource is a demonstration of how much the financial market has changed. And every time another university, government or pension fund divests it becomes just a bit less radical and a bit more normal to do so.

So this is my message: Watch out Oxford, because in the end we win… and annoyingly you win too because you divest and so don’t end up losing all your money… but the point is, you divest.

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