Science Watch

Cardiff University’s history and future with fossil fuels

By Danny Brown

“Environmental sustainability is a core value of our strategy The Way Forward 2018-23 and the decision to divest from fossil fuels is the latest milestone in our journey” is what Professor Colin Riordan, vice chancellor of Cardiff University, said March this year after it was officially announced that Cardiff University will fully divest from fossil fuels by 2021.

In September of 2015, a freedom of information request was submitted to Cardiff University, asking that they release the total value of their investments in the fossil fuel industry.

It was revealed that the University was investing over £2 million in companies and corporations in the fossil fuel industry. A University spokesperson, at the time, had been recorded saying “that this is a complex issue but do not consider that University disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry is the action”.

Soon after the release of the information, students began protesting and petitioning to get the University to divest in the industry. Previously covered by Gair Rhydd, the “Oil Spill” event saw students involved with the nationally spread environmental society, People and Planet, encouraging other students to sign their petition by lying outside the Students’ Union and getting covered in oil.

The protesting has continued since and culminated in March this year with, what most already know, the graffitiing of the Main Building and the hunger strike performed by two students. People and Planet claimed responsibility for the graffiti and the two students, Frieda Lourken and Lucienne Billy, were both members of the society.

Although many have seen the protesting as extreme, they achieved their desired result. Cardiff University has promised to completely divest from fossil fuels by 2021.

But what might the consequences be? The University has various degrees surrounding the subject of the environment and plenty of research facilities with the specific aim to look into and find alternative energy sources. Complete disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry could mean less money for the university to use in researching environmentally friendly methods of energy production.

However, there aren’t always purely negative consequences to situations. Interviewing Nia Jones, the Ethical and Environmental Officer for the Student Union, she said in divesting from the fossil fuel industry, “it shows that [Cardiff University] is looking to the future. It also means that the university is taking the implementation of its sustainability strategy seriously”.

Nia went on to say “the renewable energy industry is an exciting and quickly developing industry. All levels of society and industry need to take the IPCC recommendations of starting to drastically reduce their dependence on the fossil fuel industry seriously. If this doesn’t happen then far greater consequences could affect all industries”.

Despite the fact that the pledge of divesting from the fossil fuel industry was made half a year ago, the University still has over £2.7 million in investments in the industry. This is over 9% of the University’s total endowment fund.

Alongside the promise of divesting from the fossil fuel industry, Cardiff University has pledged to phase out the use of single-use plastics by 2021, as is outlined in their strategy The Way Forward 2018-23 with the Vice Chancellor also saying “the move to divestment sends a clear and positive message that we are committed to environmental sustainability and tackling climate change”.

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