'End fossil fuel funding' implore Imperial students

Sir David King, the former UK Government chief scientific advisor, calls on Imperial College London to divest from fossil fuels. 

Students call on Imperial College London to end all fossil fuels investments from its £542 million endowment - as university finance becomes a global flashpoint.

I strongly urge the College to divest from those fossil fuel industries, including Shell, BP and Exxon-Mobil, that are still investing in new oil and gas discovery. 

Hundreds of Imperial College London students, staff and alumni - including the former UK Government chief scientific advisor Sir David King - have called on the university to fully divest its £542 million endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

The student group Imperial Climate Action (ICA) released a student petition, which has now received 792 signatures. A similar open letter has garnered more than 200 signatures from Imperial academics. The open letter is directed towards Professors Hugh Brady, Ian Walmsley and Mary Ryan: the president, provost, and vice-provost of the university, respectively. The Imperial College Union, which represents the university’s student body, also supports full divestment. 

The student open letter outlines the profound misalignment of all major fossil fuel companies with the goals of the Paris Agreement, as well as the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on women, indigenous peoples, working class communities and low-emitting nations in the Global South. 


Professor Naomi Oreskes, who has written extensively on the fossil fuel industry misinformation, has joined calls on Imperial to divest from fossil fuels. 

She said: “Around the globe, world leaders and citizens have recognised the need for immediate action to address the climate crisis. Yet, fossil fuel development continues unabated, in part because banks, financial institutions and individual investors continue to invest in it.  

"The time has come to stop the flow of finance that supports and sustains this damaging industry. As a leader in science, technology, and engineering, Imperial College London should have been at the forefront of the divestment movement.  Instead, Imperial stands as one of the few Russell Group universities still investing its endowment in fossil fuels. It is time to fix this!”

King said: "The climate crisis has entered a new phase. Key scientific information now available on the rapid rate of ice loss from Greenland to 30m tons per hour following on from the data showing that over the past 15 years the Arctic Circle has been heating up at four times the rate of the global average temperature rise since the pre-industrial period. 

"I strongly urge the college to divest from those fossil fuel industries, including Shell, BP and Exxon-Mobil, that are still investing in new oil and gas discovery. As many economists point out, this will not only worsen our chances of a manageable future for humanity, it will also prove to be a stranded economic asset."

The student letter states that “the college’s continued investment in fossil fuel companies is in contradiction with the climate science being produced by its own academics”, which makes clear that all new investment in oil, coal or gas expansion must cease immediately.


Students at Imperial stated their grave concern that, until it publicly commits to divest, Imperial is lending its world-renowned reputation for scientific excellence to companies ignoring climate science at every turn, helping to greenwash their reputations and add legitimacy to their false sustainability claims. 

I strongly urge the College to divest from those fossil fuel industries, including Shell, BP and Exxon-Mobil, that are still investing in new oil and gas discovery. 

Amid these calls for divestment, Imperial has announced the release of the Imperial Zero Index. The index will be used to "assess annually how its energy industry collaborators are performing in their commitment, strategy and operational efforts towards net zero". 

The university has stated that it will disengage from collaborations with companies that score poorly in this assessment. It remains unclear if investments are to be included in this assessment, yet campaigners are urging the university not to apply this index to its investments - where evidence and precedent in the sector for divestment, is overwhelming - and to heed the calls of the Imperial community to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry.   

Imperial’s investment policy currently states that it will only invest in fossil fuel companies that are aligned to the Paris Agreement. Yet, there is already overwhelming evidence that the fossil fuel industry is not transitioning its business model in line with the Paris Agreement, instead doubling down on long-term fossil fuel expansion several orders of magnitude greater than the planet can withstand. 

In addition to this, a report released by Cambridge University titled ‘Grace on Fossil Fuel Industry Ties’ found that “no fossil fuel companies (...), have short-term targets, CapEx plans, or policy engagement which are aligned with NZ2050 and hence the University’s level of ambition”.


The Imperial Climate Action group has stated that “decades of investor engagement efforts” have failed to transition these companies away from their core oil, coal and gas business models. Fossil fuel companies continue to invest billions into new long-term fossil fuel expansion projects. 

The student letter by ICA therefore makes the case that “divestment by respected public institutions is a key strategy [...] as it helps to expose fossil fuel companies’ failure to voluntarily shift their business models”, helping to pave the way for the necessary legislative action to compel companies to halt destructive business practices. 

In other words, investor engagement approaches rely on companies voluntarily transitioning their business models. Divestment approaches aim to increase public awareness of company malpractice, and therefore pressure on governments to force companies to halt practices and make the necessary transitions within the timelines dictated by science. 

Imperial College has continued to delay taking action on the matter, and is accused of being unresponsive to demands of its staff and students. Students undertook an action for Valentines Day, when they signed a valentine’s day card asking Hugh Brady to break up with fossil fuels. A response has not been given to the student group. 

This action is the latest in Imperial Climate Action’s fossil free campaign, which is coordinated by student-led campaigning charity People & Planet in partnership with SOS UK’s Invest for Change campaign. The fossil free campaign has seen almost 75 per cent of UK universities divest from fossil fuels. This includes 21 out of the UKs 24 research-intensive Russell Group universities, further showing how Imperial College is falling behind in the sector.


Ioana Balabasciuc, Divestment Campaign leader at Imperial Climate Action, said: "With time running out, and the fossil fuel industry rolling back the inadequate climate transition plans it had committed to, it has never been clearer that light-touch shareholder engagement is not the answer. 

"We need institutions like Imperial to join the rest of the university sector and stop pedalling this myth. Instead, Imperial must mobilise its reputational influence to put pressure on our government to finally legislate against the fossil fuel industry’s catastrophic business practices. 

"The scientific evidence is unequivocal and strongly condemns the fossil fuel industry's deliberate disregard for alarming indicators of climate change. We don't require yet another index to comprehend this; we need full divestment from fossil fuels.”

Joanna D Haigh, a distinguished fellow at Imperial College department of physics, said: “To invest in fossil fuels is to seek financial gain from an industry which continues to drive global heating and its devastating impact on people and the environment. Imperial College does not need to align itself with this activity.”

Notable academic petition signatories include Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie, a research fellow and former senior scientist at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Professor Joanna Haigh, a distinguished research fellow; Professor Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute and professor of climate science and policy at the Centre for Environmental Policy; Dr Paulo Ceppi, a senior lecturer in climate science and Professor Ralf Toumi, a co-director of the Grantham Institute.

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Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

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