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Jeanette Winterson backs divestment

Over 90 University of Manchester academics sign open letter calling for divestment
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Almost 100 members staff of the University of Manchester have signed an open letter calling on the university to end its investment in the fossil fuel industry and actively reinvest in socially and environmentally responsible funds.

The 96 academics, including author Jeanette Winterson and renowned climate change academic Kevin Anderson have added their voices to the 2,000-strong student petition that has already called for the university to divest.

The University of Manchester currently invests over £9.5 million in shares in six of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including Shell, BP, Glencore Xstrata, Tullow Oil and Rio Tinto.

‘Socially irresponsible’

In the letter, the signatories urge the university’s Vice-Chancellor and Board of Governors to assess the fossil fuel industry more carefully, in accordance with the University of Manchester’s Policy for Socially Responsible Investment, as they believe the industry’s both ‘environmentally degrading and socially irresponsible’.

‘Making investment decisions on the basis of specific social, ethical and environmental criteria is one of the ways in which The University of Manchester can express the values and objectives to which it is committed.’

University of Manchester’s Policy for Socially Responsible Investment

A necessary transition

The letter underlines the fact that 60-80% of fossil fuel reserves must remain underground if the crucial threshold of two degrees of warming is to be avoided.

It goes on to say that the business model used by fossil fuel companies is currently incompatible with a safe climate.

‘[Fossil fuel companies] show unwillingness to engage with or adjust to this scenario and we believe divestment will more readily encourage the necessary transition to a low carbon economy.’

Open letter from staff to the University of Manchester

Risk of stranded assets

The letter reminds the Board of the Bank of England’s warning regarding the financial risks of investing in assets which may become ‘stranded’ due to government policy. These concerns have been echoed by the Energy & Climate Change secretary.

The academics argue that removing fossil fuels would reduce the volatility of the university’s portfolio with little effect on the rate of return on investment

Five-year deadline

The letter supports the students’ demands for the University to commit to freezing new investment in fossil fuel companies and divesting within five years from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that control the majority of carbon reserves.

The letter’s signatories describe the decision facing the Board as ‘a tremendous opportunity’ for the University of Manchester to demonstrate ‘decisive and forward-thinking leadership on one of the most pressing global issues of our time.’

The divestment movement

Students and staff at universities and other institutions are increasingly concerned about the dangers of climate change and the ‘carbon bubble’ that threatens the £5.2 billion UK universities collectively invest in the fossil fuel industry.

Over 200 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of over $60 billion, have committed to divestment, including the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the British Medical Association and the Church of England. 42 cities and 26 Universities & Colleges have also committed to divesting.

Fossil fuel divestment is the fastest-growing divestment movement in history and is continuing to gain momentum for both moral and financial reasons. AXA Insurance and the Norwegian Sovereign wealth fund also recently announced they would end investment in coal.

Click here to find out more about the Fossil Free Manchester campaign.

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