University of Exeter invests over £2 million in fossil fuels and arms

Calum Harvey-Scholes

On the 11th May, Ethical Exeter is holding a series of events to publicise the University of Exeter’s continuing investment in fossil fuel and arms companies on its Penryn Campus. Many students and employees were concerned to learn that the University of Exeter invests over £2 million in fossil fuel extraction and arms trading, especially considering how much the university does to promote sustainability elsewhere.

As part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation 2017, Exeter students will engage students and staff in interactive ‘Divestment games’ with colourful visual to explain how the university’s investments support fossil fuel extraction and arms trading. Students and staff are calling for the university to pledge now to fully divest from arms and fossil fuels over the next five years.

Over a quarter of UK universities have already pledged to divest from fossil fuels as the UK leads the world in university divestment. The science is clear that fossil fuel use, and their value, has to fall; fossil fuel investments have under-performed relative to the rest of the market over the past ten years. Exeter risks being left behind and losing money if it ends up left holding shares as their value plummets.

At least eight UK universities have also divested from arms. There is no strong argument for an institution which seeks to “tackle some of the fundamental issues facing humankind,” “making a positive impact upon… global conflicts,” that also profits from the production and supply of the weapons which power such conflict.

Lauren Schofield, Ethical Exeter said:

“Many people I have spoken to have been shocked to learn that the university invests in fossil fuels and arms at the same time as leading the world in climate change and sustainability research. There seems to be a fundamental dissonance – if sustainability is truly part of the university’s vision, it will divest as soon as possible.

“When governments do act to prevent dangerous climate change, the business model for fossil fuel companies will be over, and that day is fast approaching.

“And, if oil and gas companies keep on drilling in their final days, it will make climate change far worse – it is the right decision both financially and ethically for Exeter to divest as soon as possible.”

80% of fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Consequently, there has been growing concerns about the long-term financial risks of fossil fuel investments. A recent analysis found that California’s public pension funds, CalPERS & CalSTRS, incurred a combined loss of over $5 billion in one year from their holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies.

In December 2016, as a result of pressure from Ethical Exeter, the University of Exeter reviewed its Investment Policy. The university agreed to invest 3% of the total endowment in a ‘sustainable fund’, and review it after one year. The performance of any investment over one year (whether positive or negative) is not the basis for decisions about long-term investments. Unfortunately, this token gesture does not demonstrate a real commitment to sustainability, or even maximising profitability of the university’s endowment.