The Guild of Students welcomes the University of Birmingham’s declaration of a Climate Emergency. This is a long overdue milestone in the University’s contribution towards the transition to a zero-carbon society. It is an important acknowledgment of the extent of our current climate and ecological crisis. We support the University’s appreciation of the need to leverage its institutional power to tackle that crisis. It is a decisive step in admitting the true scope, scale and severity of the environmental damage being done to our planet, and the need to alter our approach to limit the damage, that all too often affects those communities least able to withstand it.
The Guild and its members have long advocated for the University to take this important step, with dedicated student activists, campaigning groups and successive officer teams lobbying the University at the highest level. Indeed, former Guild President, Joshua Williams, declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency on behalf of the Guild in February 2020. We would particularly like to highlight the work of former Ethical and Environmental Officer Matthew Griffin, UoB Fossil Free, the UoB Climate Justice Movement and many others who campaigned tirelessly for the University to make this declaration.
We also recognise that this formal declaration is just that, a symbolic declaration and by itself does not address the climate emergency. We welcome the University’s commitment to meaningful action and recognition that as a civic institution it bears a responsibility to the communities it supports to take that action. The University is right to accept that it needs to do more and more quickly if it is to make a positive contribution to reducing the impact of the climate crisis.
We therefore reaffirm the Guild’s commitment to holding the University to account to making good on its promises. We will continue to work constructively with the University to ensure it continues to promote and support academic research in the area, further embeds sustainability into the curriculum and works to significantly reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of its operations, here in Birmingham and around the world.
Central to our ongoing campaigning work is our continued commitment to fighting for divestment from fossil fuel companies. As a result of considerable lobbying in this area, fossil fuel investment now comprises only 0.15% of the University’s investment portfolio. While this considerable reduction is commendable, the Guild strongly believes it is not morally defensible for the University to continue to invest in companies profiting from fossil fuel extraction, given the scale of environmental damage these companies cause. We are therefore disappointed that the University did not use its opportunity to announce its complete divestment from fossil fuels.
The Guild will continue to argue that the University’s responsible investment policy should entirely exclude investments in those companies deriving more than 5% of global revenues from fossil fuel investment. It should also take further steps to work towards decarbonisation of its investment portfolio. The Guild also believes the Investment Sub-Committee of University Council should have permanent student representation to ensure that investments are subject to democratic oversight.