The University of Manchester has promised to reconsider its fossil fuel investments, in response to a successful occupation by student activists highlighting the University’s extensive investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Pressure applied by environmental campaigners has led to the University of Manchester committing to review its fossil fuel investment portfolio after students staged a week long occupation on the campus.
Student activists at the University of Manchester staged an occupation in the John Owens building which contains the offices for the Senior Leadership Team and Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell. The activists from the People & Planet Society and Fossil Free Greater Manchester were calling for full divestment from fossil fuel companies. The occupation ended on Monday 25 November.
A Freedom of Information request submitted prior to the occupation, revealed that the university had £11,975,986 invested in companies including two multinationals, Glencore and Rio Tinto, which are heavily involved with fossil fuel extraction and distribution. The University had claimed it was committed to being a “world leader in sustainable development”.
The University has responded by promising to a review of their Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRIP) in order to fully decarbonise their investments. In a statement the University said they were “committed to bring forward by a year the review of its SRIP because of the shared recognition of the urgency of the issue.”
Although there was no specific mention of divesting from extractive fossil fuel ventures People & Planet have accepted this commitment as satisfying and going beyond just divestment.
Some student activists have expressed their scepticism of the University after their previous experiences in the campaign. Daniel Johnson, a co-ordinator for the divestment campaign at the University, said:
“Very little trust on our part towards the University because of how unwilling they have been to engage with us up to this point. Regarding the SRI review, we think it’ll definitely go ahead as they said, but we’re all wary of the outcome. For us the worst case scenario would be if they review the policy and nothing changes.”
The People & Planet society have been campaigning for divestment in Manchester for the past four years. Earlier this year they entered into a meeting of the University’s Board of Governors to present them with the third petition with student and staff signatures. Then, in June they attempted to occupy the same building but were forced to leave when faced with the University security service restricting access to toilets, food, and water.
This occupation was not met with any more leniency and students were again refused contact with anyone from the outside and denied supplies of food. They were able to secure a boardroom which allowed them access to toilets and running water. On the third day the university also turned off the power supply just after the occupiers had sent them another letter asking for dialogue. One activist, Kayleigh Crawford has said “denying us access to food, electricity, and other supplies instead of simply coming down to speak to us really highlighted how far they’ll go to avoid being held accountable by their own students”.
Universities across the country have been facing pressure to remove their investments from fossil fuels. With 76 UK universities currently having made commitments to divestment, including Goldsmiths, York, and Leeds Trinity most recently.
Feature image and in article photos: Kayleigh Crawford