Rebecca Pinnington reports on Fossil Free UCL’s latest protest
From Tuesday to Thursday this week, Fossil Free UCL occupied the Wilkins Quad Marquee, demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies.
However the protest was called off earlier than scheduled, with the Marquee back to normal use on Friday morning for university events.
The protest was organised to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-21) in Paris, where 130 national representatives are currently working out a deal to lower greenhouse gas emissions and limit the impacts of climate change.
I went to the protesters’ rally at 15.00 on Thursday to find out how the occupation was going. Unfortunately, though their aims are undoubtedly noble, and something a lot of students can get behind, this action was anything but organised.
UCL currently holds £21m worth of investments in fossil fuel companies, and has received £6,181,303 in research funding from Shell, BHP Billton, BP, Exxon Mobil, Rio Tinto and Total in the last five years. The occupation aimed to raise awareness of this issue, and to mobilise students to sign a petition for divestment and get further involved in the campaign.
BNOC activist Beth Perkin kicked off the protests, shouting facts and slogans into a megaphone in a sadly futile attempt to rally up crowds – it’s December, it’s cold, no one was in the quad.
Perkin later gave an articulate speech from the Portico, on the reasons behind the occupation. “UCL is a powerful, society-shaping institution,” she said. “It demands exorbitant tuition fees from students and uses that money to fund the destruction of their futures.” There were three people standing in the quad to listen.
The group then marched on the Provost’s office to deliver him a list of demands, the most important being divestment. They were prevented from entering by UCL Security, and were told that Professor Arthur was not available, but delivered their demands on paper to a member of staff. Not ones to miss the opportunity for a catchy slogan, they chanted that well-known classic, “UCL, UCL, don’t put us in climate hell,” for a moment before heading back into the quad, considering demonstrating at other Bloomsbury institutions with fossil fuel investments.
The occupation lasted two full days, with protesters staying overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, as the majority of the activists were headed to Paris to demonstrate outside the UN talks.
COP-21 aims to reach a solution for limiting warming to 2C. However, Fossil Free UCL and other activists like them do not think this is enough, and are advocating for a stricter limit on emissions.
The occupation was initially advertised as continuing until December 13.
Featured image: Rebecca Pinnington