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Divestment and renewables. Our next step in sustainability.

Tuesday 18-08-2015 - 13:46

Our freedom of information requests on investments across higher education are the next step in taking positive action on sustainability together. This is our movement’s chance to drive the renewables revolution we badly need.

Over the last ten years, we’ve worked closely with universities, colleges and students’ unions to improve our performance on sustainability collectively, and we’ve come such a long way. Today, I’m proud to see it at the core of our politics – with NEC passing an incredible motion on climate change at our most recent meeting.

We’ve recognised that climate change isn’t just a green issue. It’s one of today’s most pressing social justice crises, cross-cutting with the women’s movement, our Black students’ campaign, and our struggle for economic equality.

NEC passed policy to campaign around the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris. We’ve got students’ unions leading as regional organisers to campaign from the grassroots. We’ve got a session at the preceding Conference of Youth. And we’re working with other student groups around the world as part of the SOS alliance to heat up politics, not the planet.

We’re also ramping up our action on divestment. To do this, we’re looking into the state of investments across all of higher education, and that’s why we’ve issued so many FOI requests this week.

Our work on sustainability has never been about demonising individuals or institutions. We’ve always worked constructively and collaboratively with universities, colleges and students’ unions to create mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone. Our work on divestment doesn’t have to be any different.

It’s not about turning universities into pantomime fossil fuel villains. It’s about highlighting the opportunities to become world leaders on investments in renewables. It’s all well and good to tell our institutions what not to invest in. What I’m inspired about is providing the positive alternative: using our movement as a global example for how to drive locally owned, clean energy, and that's what we'll be concentrating on delivering.

We know that loads of institutions might not even know where all their investments are, or think that their ethical policies already exclude fossil fuels. Some would probably divest without being asked if they knew for sure what their money was funding. And that’s what our FOIs will help to make clear once and for all. It’s not about naming and shaming.

But make no mistake – once institutions know they’re invested in fossil fuels, their students are going to campaign to make them move their money. And they will win. We’ve seen it in Glasgow. We’ve seen it in Oxford. We’ve seen it in Warwick. We’re seeing it everywhere. Students won’t be ignored on this.

Thankfully, divestment represents a huge opportunity to make investments which deliver better financial returns, are more ethical and in keeping with our institutions' commitments to be there for the public good.

The FOIs we sent out this week are about finding out how our higher education sector is investing in fossil fuels. Soon, we’ll send out a second wave looking into how the fossil fuel industry is investing in our sector – through scholarships, presence at recruitment fairs, sponsorships and whatever. Finally, we’ll put together a full piece of research on student and staff attitudes towards divestment and renewables.

All of these findings will be launched around the UN climate talks this winter, kicking into motion an incredible year on divestment campaigning while climate change is high on the political agenda.

And of course – once we get this information in nationally – we can share the findings about your institution with your union, so you can tailor your divestment campaigns to deliver the biggest local wins possible.

I know loads of you want meaningful campaigning on climate change, and NEC has voted for it too. Divestment is a great way of taking action, and I can’t wait to get started properly. Taking on the power of the fossil fuel industry and moving our money into renewables will be the next step in our movement’s proud history on sustainability.

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