May 31, 2014

59 Oxford academics urge University to divest from fossil fuels

Oxford, UK — Fifty-nine Oxford academics have signed an open letter urging Oxford University to “take action on climate change” by ridding its £3.8bn endowment of investments in fossil fuel companies.

The letter comes during a university-wide consultation on fossil fuel divestment, set to conclude on June 23. The consultation was announced following a year of sustained pressure from the student-led Fossil Free campaign, which came to a head on Saturday when over 150 students and residents marched through Oxford calling on the University and council to divest from fossil fuels.

In their open letter, the academics argue that Oxford has a “responsibility to show leadership in tackling one of the greatest challenges we as a society currently face.”

Henry Shue, Professor of Politics and International Relations comments, “We at Oxford like to claim the mantle of intellectual leadership. Here is our opportunity to display genuine leadership when it counts.”

Signatories to the letter come from all corners of the university and  include Lord Professor Robert May, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, Lesley Gray, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, and Professor Gordon Clark, current director of the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

“It’s exciting to see so many professors calling on Oxford to divest,” says Michaela Collord, a student at Oxford. “Many have dedicated their careers to warning us about climate change, but we’ve seen nothing like the concerted effort needed to heed these warnings, either from the fossil fuel companies themselves or our politicians. It’s time the University stood by its academics and divested from fossil fuels.”

The Oxford letter follows a similar initiative by academics at Harvard, where faculty members called for divestment in a letter released in April this year. It further cements the international reach of the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has followed the trajectory of the anti-apartheid campaign to become the fastest-growing movement of its kind in history.

Saturday’s rally demonstrated the broad support the divestment campaign enjoys across Oxford University and town. Speakers included university academics, local activists, a medic, trade union representatives, and Church of England clergy, among others. Almost 900 students and alumni have signed a petition calling on the University of Oxford to divest.

Internationally, the divestment movement enjoys support from opinion leaders as diverse as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.



Dr. Brenda Boardman, emeritus Oxford Fellow from  environmental change institute, speaker at the rally and signatory of the open letter

“We can only burn 20% of the carbon in the proven fossil fuel reserves. We’ll have reached that limit in 16 years at present rates of consumption. We know about housing bubbles. Now we have a carbon bubble, a bubble of unreal value. It is too risky to own shares in this bubble. It has to burst and will burst if we are sane and want to avoid dangerous climate change.”

“The people’s energy revolution is underway. Let’s have a climate change revolution and divest from fossil fuel companies. Say no to fracking, because that’s more fossil fuels. Say no to further exploration for fossil fuels. Say no to investing in the problem. Say yes to investing in the future.”

Professor Henry Shue, Professor of Politics and International Relations

“We at Oxford like to claim the mantle of intellectual leadership. Here, where the entrenched fossil fuel interests are putting up a nasty and dirty fight to protect the value of the assets that will be stranded if we exit the energy regime they dominate, is our opportunity to display genuine leadership when it counts.”

Dr. Dominic Roser, Oxford Martin School Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations

“We must change our perception of the fossil fuel industry. They exploit our society’s hunger for this lethal source of energy.”

Al Chisholm, Oxford resident and mother of two who co-organised the rally

“With the devastating floods in Oxfordshire this year, we have seen what havoc climate change can inflict on our communities, and it’s only going to get worse. The fossil fuel industry is currently refusing to align its business practice with a low-carbon energy future. We are marching today to show support for Oxfordshire Councils to take decisive action and divest from fossil fuels and we will keep up the pressure to make sure they do the right thing. We are extremely happy that Oxford residents and students are standing together on this issue.”


Photos are available at

Contact details:

James Farndon, Fossil Free UK campaign coordinator: [email protected], +44 7746917440

Michaela Collord, student, Oxford University: [email protected], +44 7794552289

Melanie Mattauch, Europe Communications Coordinator, [email protected], +49 15158120184

Henry Shue, Professor of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University: [email protected]


1. The open letter can be found here.

2. Additional signatures on the open letter to be recorded here.

3. More on the student campaign here and the university’s statement on the consultation here.