UEA Fossil Free: ‘If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage’

Why would an institution at the forefront of research on the impacts of climate change choose to finance the very industry causing it? Despite its aspiration to be ‘an exemplary low carbon campus’, UEA has over £130,000 invested in the fossil fuel industry.


According to the IPCC, 80% of fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if we are to avert a two degree temperature rise, which would trigger catastrophic climate change. That would mean more extreme weather events like the 2013 droughts in Australia, Hurricane Sandy and Cyclone Haiyan, which is currently devastating the Philippines and has already affected over 11 million people. Yet the fossil fuel industry’s business plan is to burn five times more carbon dioxide than scientists say we can safely emit and still keep global warming below the 2°C tipping point.

Companies like Shell and BP are ignoring the science and jeopardising our future. The Fossil Free movement has been formed as a citizen response to sidestep UN inertia and directly challenge the fossil fuel industry, getting institutions around the world to sever ties with the companies involved and divest from fossil fuels, starving them of the legitimacy they crave. As climate campaigner Bill McKibben commented, ‘if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage,’ and much like the tobacco and arms companies before them, fossil fuel companies must be challenged, and ostracised.

Climate change is the prime motivation for this campaign, but it’s worth mentioning that the companies that UEA invests in – Shell, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – all have dubious track records on human rights, and are engaged in some the most destructive projects in the world today, including coal mining in Indonesia and Mozambique, the Canadian tar sands and Arctic oil drilling.

Alongside the moral imperative to act, there is also a financial case to be made for divestment. Analysts from LSE’s Grantham Research Institute have warned that the fossil fuel industry has been massively overvalued on the stock exchange, creating a ‘carbon bubble’, and investments risk becoming ‘stranded assets’ as carbon limiting market conditions are introduced. These conclusions are echoed by HSBC, ProiceWaterHouseCoopers and others: fossil fuels are no longer a sound investment.

Over 300 universities have active divestment campaigns across Europe and North America, and over 30 institutions have already divested. UK universities hold £5 billion of endowment funds in fossil fuels, so collectively we can make a huge difference. Fossil Free claims the support of such high profile figures as Al Gore, former Irish president Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has noted the parallels with the divestment movement that helped bring down apartheid.

We believe it’s time for UEA to live up to its motto to ‘do different’, and become a true leader in the higher education sector, re-affirming its green reputation (not to mention safeguarding our planet for future generations). Consequently, we are calling on the university to:

  1. Conduct an audit of existing endowments, screening all investments of funds for links to companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction.
  2. Immediately freeze all new investments in the fossil fuel industry.
  3. Take action to divest from fossil fuels and shift funds to lower risk, ethical investments within five years.

We aim to build a broad based coalition of staff and students. Our campaign launch is Tuesday 19th November at 7pm, L.T.4, and will be featuring speakers from the renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, as well as members of civil society and the Union of UEA Students. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/499818896783289/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

If you would like to get involved, please sign our petition at fossil free uea on facebook, or join the campaign team. Email union.environment@uea.ac.uk

Benjamin Brown

Fossil Free UEA organising group.


4 thoughts on “UEA Fossil Free: ‘If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage’

  1. Hi – thanks for the article. I’d like to know what you base your assessment of the increase in extreme weather events on? The IPCC itself has declared low confidence in any human influence on extreme weather events such as the ones you mention (Australian droughts, Sandy, Haiyan). Please confirm your scientific sources to show that you are not just using these horrific natural disasters to further your divestment agenda.

    Please inform yourselves here before quoting (undoubtedly tragic) extreme events like Haiyan out of their natural context: http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/most-intense-typhoons-on-the-decline/

  2. “…much like the tobacco and arms companies before them, fossil fuel companies must be challenged, and ostracised as long as they continue”

    Everything you do – cars you drive, food you unpackage, heating, lighting – is done via the expenditure of fossil fuels. Have you chaps really thought this through? The very processes of development that mean you can live how you do and heat your homes during winter was due to the incredible technology and advances of fossil fuels. I agree that developed countries should be looking to develop alternative sources of energy but renewable energy is not cheap or efficient – yet. Nor should unethical practices be tolerated by any business. However the science behind Catastrophic Climate Change is not strong enough to justify what you’re asking for (full divestment), and the models on which the IPCC bases it’s assumptions of catastrophe are being invalidated as we speak – global surface temperatures have not risen for the last 15-18 years. depending on which official source you use.

    No-one born post-1998 has experienced a shred of global warming. To them, this is a cooling planet.

  3. The UEA is clearly sponsored by the oil and gas industry as shown on the UEA website here:


    And yet there is no mention in this post of cutting these ties. As Bill McKibben says, “fossil fuel companies must be challenged, and ostracised”. Will the Fossil Free UEA organising group also be pushing to get the UEA to turn down sponsorship from the fossil fuel industry?

  4. Shell and BP are hell bent on frying the planet, so it may come as a surprise to some that they have got their tentacles on the crown jewels of the UEA, the Climatic Research Unit itself. Follow the link, go to the bottom of the page, and it clearly states that Shell and BP are, or have been sponsoring the CRU:


    Small wonder why we don’t hear academics calling out for policies which would sink the fossil fuel industries for good, and such policies do exist:

    “Fee and dividend is a revenue-neutral mechanism designed to impose a progressive fee on carbon emissions and return the fee to the public, which has been proposed as an alternative method of reduction in fossil fuel use to cap and trade, carbon tax or emissions trading mechanisms. This mechanism is designed to maintain economic function while encouraging transition to a sustainable energy economy while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions.”

    I’ve even made a video about it:

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