Grantham Institute discussion explores the options for fossil fuel divestment


An audience gathered at Imperial to discuss whether divesting from fossil fuels and investing in research can go hand-in-hand to avert climate change.

The Grantham Institute and students from Imperial's Environmental Society convened an open event, Divestment: What are the options?, responding to the need for a forum around this much-publicised issue.

Five expert panellists talked about the role that individuals can play in calling for investment in research, and development of strategies, to reduce carbon emissions, alongside other actions to influence the global agenda on climate change.

If we are going to stay within 2 degrees we need to get off our backsides and act

– Howard Covington

Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy

The international fossil fuel divestment movement, presented at the event by James Randerson from The Guardian, is putting pressure on high-profile institutions and companies to withdraw funds invested in fossil fuel companies. The focus of their Keep it in the ground campaign is to lobby for investment in clean energy technologies, like solar power, to make them cost-effective enough to replace power from fossil fuels.

According to panellist Howard Covington, from the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy, shareholders and consumers should take responsibility for putting climate change on the corporate agenda if they want to affect the global economy.

"If we are going to stay within 2 degrees we need to get off our backsides and act," said Mr Covington. He suggested that individuals request the companies that manage their investments, savings and pensions to table and vote for motions at annual general meetings to reduce climate risk while preserving or increasing the value of their investments.

Pledging to divest

Susan Seymour, a trustee at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, explained why the charity was one of the first organisations to pledge to divest their funds: "On one hand, we were awarding grants that were promoting mitigation against climate change, whilst with the other hand our investments were propping up carbon-intensive enterprise. Our divestment position was, in part, intended to tackle this paradox."

Environmental Society members Jonny Ritson and George Richardson introduced the event, talking about the responsibility of Imperial students to tackle important global challenges, such as those around understanding, mitigating or adapting to global environmental change.

Adapting practice

Panel member, Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, Head of Sustainability and Senior Vice-President at the Statoil group, a Norwegian oil, gas and energy company, pointed to the ways that some fossil fuel companies like his are adapting their business practices to reduce their carbon emissions. He cited improvements to the efficiency with which they use fuels to produce energy, and advancing new technologies to produce energy for the future.

"In the last year Statoil welcomed more than 80 bright Imperial science and engineering graduates, who joined our company to apply their skills and original ideas. We are investing in the future when our business must continue, but energy comes from different sources."

On 22 October, John Knight  Executive Vice President of Statoil, will be giving a Grantam special lecture at Imperial about the responsibility of fossil fuel companies in a changing world, entitled Preparing Statoil for a low carbon world.


Simon Levey

Simon Levey
Communications Division

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