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Our response to Green League results: ‘Good, but not enough’.

11 Jun

‘A good start, but not enough’: students respond to the University of Edinburgh’s Green League scores for ethical investment.

Despite the university’s positive result today in the Green League’s (run by People and Planet in conjuction with the Guardian) ethical investment section, the ‘Responsible Investment Campaign’ ran by students at the university says it is high time for the university’s £230+ million endowment fund to shed investments it holds in fossil fuel companies and a drones manufacturer.

The university received 3 out of 3 – full marks – on ethical investment criteria for having a public Socially Responsible Investment policy. But Nick Dowson, part of People and Planet Edinburgh University, the group that launched the campaign,says: “We are pleased that the university has made some efforts to improve its policy on Socially Responsible Investment, and that it has recently signed up to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. But this is not enough: how can it pride itself on its enviromental efforts when it continues to invest in fossil fuels – including companies like Shell with poor human rights records – the burning of which is the major cause of climate change?”

“We also discovered that they hold shares in Ultra Electronics Holdings, who manufacture components for the US predator drones which are being used to terrorise populations – in contravention of international law – in Pakistan. We have no reason to believe that the investment committee did this knowingly, but that just goes to show how important it is to have a transparent and accountable investment committee.”

The group are calling for divestment from arms and fossil fuels as well as the creation of a committee to hold the university’s investments accountable and provision for an elected student to sit on the university’s investment committee. In addition, the students are calling for some of the university’s funds to be managed by an ethical fund manager, and for ‘positive investment’: taking some of the university’s investments out of stocks and shares and putting it into improving energy efficiency on campus, bringing a direct environmental and financial return.

Kirsty Haigh, Vice President of Services at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) says “The goals of this campaign were agreed democratically by students at a student council meeting in February. As a sabbatical officer I hope to be able to work with the university to achieve these aims and ensure the university is a world leader in investing responsibly. Its endowment fund is the largest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge and it should be using this for the benefit of students and the wider public: funding scholarships, and also investing in ways that don’t harm our future, not fuelling conflicts and climate change.”

The call for divestment from fossil fuels began in the US with 350.org and the enviromentalist Bill McKibben, on the basis of evidence that we must leave 80% of current proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change . People and Planet are planning to launch the campaign in the UK this autumn, and Bill McKibben will be speaking in Edinburgh at the end of November.

Nick Dowson says “As students, we want this endowment to be invested in a way which does not jeopardise our future. Not only is there a clear moral and enviromental case for this divestment, but reports of a ‘carbon bubble’, with current oil and gas reserves overvalued, suggest that fossil fuel investments are an unacceptable risk to long-term investors such as universities and pension funds”.

For more information please contact us at: responsibleinvestment[AT]riseup.net

EDIT 17th June: In fact it seems that the University of Edinburgh received 3 points out of 3 for ethical investment. Apologies for this factual error, see its’ Green League results here.

Notes to Editors

1. People & Planet’s Green League is the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance. It is compiled annually by the UK’s largest student campaigning network, People & Planet. The full results of this years green league are available here: http://peopleandplanet.org/greenleague.

2. Information about companies that the University of Edinburgh holds investments in can be found here: https://investethically.wordpress.com/ethical-investment-faqs/current-investments/

3. Information about the financial case for divesting from fossil fuels can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/19/carbon-bubble-financial-crash-crisis

4.The Responsible Investment Campaign was launched in January and more information about the campaign can be found on the campaign website: https://investethically.wordpress.com/

5. Information about the Fossil Free campaign in the UK is available here:http://fossilfree.org.uk/

6. Environmentalist Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone magazine explains the facts behind the call for responsible investment: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

7. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere recently reached 400 parts per million: here as an article about the implications of that for the climate: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_10-5-2013-16-39-30

8. Please see the appendix for the full Green League results for the University of Edinburgh in 2013. They can also be found online here: http://peopleandplanet.org/green-league-2012/tables?ggl12profile=8703&test=dea681. This is the first year that there has been a section rating universities’ efforts on ethical investment.

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