@ewansomerville

The University has been accused of ‘betraying’ staff and students after it emerged that management has failed to deliver on its promise to divest from fossil fuels.

A heated campaign launched in 2015 by students and Sheffield Students’ Union saw the University commit to “eliminate exposure to investments linked to explicit environmental damage” by the following academic year.

But it can be revealed that in their accounts dated July 2018, the university has more than £1.5 million in companies Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Ultrapar Participa Com.

The investments, existing three years after the university pledged to have divested by, total £682,708, £723,973 and £120,954 respectively.

People and Planet, which disclosed the figures to Forge Press, said the University has “no excuse” but to join the 71 universities nationwide who have committed to divest.

Sheffield Students’ Union told Forge Press they are in private discussions with the University to push for full divestment, in the hope the issue won’t have to be taken further… Picture: Juliet Cookson

The group spearheaded the Fossil Free campaign, which saw a public debate of around 300 students come out 91 per cent in favour of divestment, and a petition to the institution’s highest echelons amass over 2,000 signatures.

“The failure of Sheffield University to fully divest is a betrayal of the many thousands of staff and students who called for the University to go Fossil Free,” they said.

But the University claims the promise was to cut ties to companies who gain more than “10 per cent of their turnover from the extraction of thermal coal and oil from tar sands,” rather than an absolute divestment.

“If they don’t divest now, it’s clear that the University is more concerned with its image than taking meaningful climate action”

Confronting the institution in a Twitter thread in January, Chris Saltmarsh, the co-director of climate change campaigning at People and Planet, claimed this was an “absolutely disgraceful” re-writing of history – bringing the issue back onto the radar of Sheffield Students’ Union.

“The university said they would be divesting from all fossil fuels. At no point was it just coal and tar sands,” he added.

Credit: Ewan Somerville

Speaking to Forge Press, the former Sheffield student said management recognised the strength of feeling at the time and “was proud that its commitment came on the first day of the historic COP21 climate conference”.

“If they don’t divest now, it’s clear that the University is more concerned with its image than taking meaningful climate action.”

Sheffield SU said the failure to honour the 2015 promise was “disappointing”, but hoped that new private talks with senior managers will reach a resolution within the next month, leaving the University a get-out clause.

The campaign in 2015 saw 2,000 students and staff openly supporting a petition to management. Picture: Sheffield People and Planet

Mel Kee, SU Development Officer, said: “We have written to the university, calling upon them to promptly re-examine and update their current Ethical Investment Policy in order to move towards full divestment as soon as possible.”

A University spokesperson said: “We are now in discussions with our Sheffield Students’ Union Development Officer and SU Sustainability Committee to look at the next stages of this work.

“The University is absolutely committed to sustainable decision making and will be launching its new sustainability strategy this year to outline its ongoing commitment to social responsibility.”

@ewansomerville

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