Progress on Environmental Sustainability at Oxford University

Contents 

  1. Environmental Sustainability Strategy 
  2. Investments 
  3. Fossil Fuel Ties 
  4. Governance 

 

Environmental Sustainability Strategy 

Oxford University launched its environmental sustainability strategy in 2021, setting targets of net zero carbon and net gain in biodiversity, both by 2035. The Student Union and student societies were influential in trying to make this strategy as ambitious as possible. 

The strategy has ten key priority areas, which you can find out more about here, where the full strategy is also attached. 

Since colleges at our university are separate entities to the central university, the strategy does not cover them. This is really important because it means although the central university has a strategy and targets, many colleges do not have these concrete commitments yet. Check out our page on what colleges can be doing to find out more. 

  

Investments 

A key way that universities can make a difference on climate change is through their investments. Oxford university has endowment assets of £1.3bn whilst individual colleges have their own endowments which total to £5.06bn. 

Divestment is a tactic of withdrawing investments from companies which go against an institution’s moral stance. Nationally, there has been a huge campaign for divestment from fossil fuel companies, and this has resulted in 97 UK universities committing to fossil fuel divestment. 

In 2020, following a successful campaign led by both students and academics, the University of Oxford announced that it would divest its central endowment from fossil fuels. This was achieved through a motion being posed to the University’s Congregation, which is a democratic mechanism in the University where university staff can vote on policy issues. This motion was co-ordinated by the Student Union and Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, and more detail on it can be found here

The campaign for fossil fuel divestment at Oxford University is not over. Despite the university’s central fund being committed to fossil fuel divestment, many colleges have still not committed to fossil fuel divestment and some still have significant investments in fossil fuel companies. 

If you are up for joining the campaign to achieve fossil fuel divestment at colleges, we need you! Contact your Environment and Ethics Rep to find out if there’s an active campaign in your college, and if they’re not sure, email vpcandc@oxfordsu.org.uk.. 

There is also now a committee specifically focusing on ethical investment policy, namely The Ethical Investment Representations Review Subcommittee which can consider concerns related to ethical or socially responsible investing. We have student representation on this committee, with our VP for Charities and Community being a member.  

  

Fossil Fuel ties 

Investments are not the only ways that universities become connected to the fossil fuel industry. As Oxford Climate Justice Campaign revealed in their extensive report released in 2021, our university is connected to the fossil fuel industry through the money the university accepts from the industry.  

The careers service has also not yet committed to stop advertising careers in the fossil fuel industry despite it banning tobacco companies. Fossil Free Careers is a campaign, led by Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, which aims to get the university to stop advertising oil, gas and mining companies through the Careers Service. This is also a national campaign with the organization People and Planet supporting students at universities across the UK to pursue this demand. Recently, Birkbeck University committed to stop advertising oil, gas and mining companies with the announcement of its ethical careers policy so there is precedent! People and Planet have lots more information on their website on this campaign.  

If you want to support campaigns aiming to cut these ties, contact Oxford Climate Justice Campaign on social media, or go along to one of their weekly meetings, which are open to any students. 

 

Governance 

At Oxford University many decisions get made through committees. There are committees relating to sustainability including: 

We have student representation on these committees as our VP for Charities and Community sits on them. If there’s an issue you think should be raised in these committees contact: vpcandc@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk