On July 8, 2015, the University of Warwick announced that it would stop investing in coal, oil and gas companies at the earliest opportunity. This is what is called 'divestment'. This decision followed two years of campaigning by Fossil Free Warwick and overwhelming support from the student body.
Divestment is a tactic campaigners use to leverage the institutions with which they engage - universities, pension funds, religious establishments - for social, political, and economic change. It is a symbolic message, tied to a material action, and designed to delegitimise particular industries and governments. By publically announcing that it will no longer offer its money for use by a particular company, an institution - e.g. a university - takes a moral stand, and removes that company's 'social license to operate'.
Divestment has been used by activists against apartheid South Africa and the tobacco industry, and has been incredibly successful in opening up the political space for previously un-thought-of actions. A study by the University of Oxford's Smith School found that "in almost every divestment campaign we reviewed from adult services to Darfur, from tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation affecting stigmatised firms."
Divestment in the climate movement is a relatively new tactic, and has met with massive success. It has mobilised campuses and communities across the world, and over 400 institutions have already refused to allow their money to be used to bankroll climate change. Most importantly, it has begun to shift the political debate, and open up new and vital solutions to climate change. Prior to the divestment movement, the idea of leaving fossil fuels in the ground as a solution to the problem of CO2 was considered unthinkable; despite numerous strands of research showing us that, to have a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, humanity needs to leave around 3/4 of coal, oil and gas in the ground.
Now, the proposal to 'Keep it in the Ground' - to take the name of a new Guardian campaign on divestment - is taking off. Direct action groups blockading new fossil fuel infrastructure, and divestment campaigns, are helping shift the entire global discourse.
To find out more about the arguments for divestment, read our brief, which was submitted the University Council members as supporting documentation for our divestment motion in July, 2015.
Whilst Warwick has pledged to divest, the battle is not yet won.
Warwick invests through external fund managers (it gives its money to an external company who then purchase shares on Warwick's behalf), meaning that it cannot go Fossil Free until there is an investment fund on the market that specifically excludes fossil fuel companies.
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