Around 30 students performed the non-violent demonstration by lying in the main quad to highlight the climate risks of fossil fuel consumption.
The student-led campaign ‘Fossil Free UCL’ performed a die-in on Friday 16th November to emphasise the “urgency of transitioning away from fossil energy”. The protest began in the main quad with campaigners holding a red ribbon to represent the blood on the hands of UCL administration. They then proceeded in silence to the Provost’s office and lay outside the door as an expression of “grief for the victims of climate change now and in the future.”
UCL currently holds investments worth £14.5 million in large fossil fuel companies such as Occidental Petroleum, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, along with stakes worth £6.6 million in banks that lend extensively to the fossil fuel industry. This includes £1.3 million invested in Shell, one of the highest emitters of carbon globally, who have recently come under investigation for complicity in human rights abuses.
In their online petition, which is open to the public to sign, ‘Fossil Free UCL’ condemns the university’s role in funding an industry that catalyses global warming, calling on the management to sell off all such ventures by the end of the academic year and to redirect financial backing to green initiatives.
The die-in marked the culmination of six years of protest and pressure on the university to divest from fossil fuel companies, and took place on the same day that the UCL council met to discuss its ‘Policy for Socially Responsible Investment’ ratified last month. The document pledges an “enduring commitment to promoting environmental sustainability” and the promotion of “low or zero carbon investments” but not at the expense of “risk and returns”. Crucially, the policy includes no clear commitment to divestment. ‘Fossil Free UCL’ say that the agreement is “vague about the timeframe and details of the commitment and refuses to consult students”. The results of Friday’s Council meeting are yet to be released but the campaign hopes a timeline for divestment was discussed.
The group also argue that the university’s yearly acceptance of research endowments from oil, natural gas, and coal companies – such as the $2.5 million received from fracking firm Santos and the $10 million from mining conglomerate BHP Billiton – contradicts both UCL’s guiding principles and its ethical investment policy, whilst also fuelling “the good public image” of the industry that it needs to continue operating. They call for greater transparency and more frequent reporting on all of the university’s financial relations with the fossil fuel industry.
UCL’s ‘Ethical Investment Policy’ states that the university will not invest in fossil fuel companies “not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy and/or not reducing emissions” and “in companies that persistently and needlessly emit significant quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.” Its investment portfolio, under asset manager Sarasin & Partners, includes 9 of the 200 largest fossil fuel corporations globally.
In a press release following the die-in, the campaign outlined the current effects of global warming such as the increased frequency of extreme and fatal weather events and highlighted the warnings set out in the recent report by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The ‘die in’ came just a day before five London bridges were occupied by thousands of environmental protesters in what was dubbed ‘Rebellion Day’ by activist group ‘Extinction Rebellion’, who seek to urge the government to take greater action on climate change.