A series of bold measures will support Imperial’s commitment to influencing the decarbonisation of fossil fuel companies.
The College will use its influence through investment, research, education, sponsorship and other actions to accelerate the transition to net-zero.
We will hold ourselves to account as much as the companies we work with Professor Ian Walmsley Provost
Last year Imperial pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies that are not demonstrably working towards meeting the Paris Agreement targets, and to use its position to influence these companies and accelerate decarbonised approaches to their products, processes and services, especially in the oil and gas sector.
A new report from the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Engagement Working Group, set up to establish the processes that will underpin this commitment, outlines the ways in which Imperial will deliver and monitor this engagement.
The report follows a College-wide consultation earlier this year, which sought the views of staff and students on the way Imperial should engage with fossil fuel companies in line with its commitment to socially responsible investment.
Imperial’s President’s Board has committed to implementing the report’s recommendations.
Imperial will leverage all aspects of its relationship with fossil fuel companies to influence them to adopt and implement credible strategies for achieving net-zero by 2050. As well as its investment decisions, this includes the College’s research, education, sponsorship, consultancy and other ways in which Imperial may interact with such companies.
COP26 has shown how important it is to collaborate across research, policy and industry to achieve net-zero. Professor Geoffrey Maitland Chair of the SRI Engagement Working Group
The College will only carry out research with fossil fuel companies that forms part of their plans for decarbonisation of their business, and only if the company demonstrates a credible strategic commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050, the report says. It will not accept funding from fossil fuel companies that is directed at propagating the existing extraction business.
The College will use its convening power to build and facilitate partnerships that drive decarbonisation in the fossil fuel industry and enable best-practice to be shared. Imperial’s world-leading expertise in systems engineering will be harnessed to support the energy transition, identify viable alternative technology pathways, and optimise both carbon reductions and financial returns for companies.
The report sets out criteria that fossil fuel companies must meet to be on a credible trajectory to net-zero by 2050. As well as its existing commitment to divest from companies that do not continue to meet these commitments, Imperial may enact other sanctions - such as not facilitating student recruitment, research collaborations and other partnerships, or not accepting donations or sponsorship.
An initial pilot with a small number of energy companies will begin in the new year, which will help refine these processes further before they are rolled out more widely.
"Putting our own house in order”
The report makes a number of recommendations to support Imperial’s own decarbonisation targets.
Imperial’s Sustainability Strategy, launched last year, commits the College to becoming a net-zero carbon institution by 2040. Imperial must provide quantitative interim targets and evidence to back up this commitment, in line with its expectations of fossil fuel companies, according to the report.
The report also recommends that Imperial should apply a “carbon cap” to its overall investment portfolio, which will decrease in time to zero by 2040.
Professor Geoffrey Maitland, Chair of the Socially Responsible Investment Engagement Working Group and Professor of Energy Engineering, said: "COP26 has shown how important it is to collaborate across research, policy and industry to achieve net-zero. Imperial has a unique opportunity to use the collective power of our investments, research, teaching, leadership and convening power to ensure that fossil fuel companies are active participants in the energy transition. At the same time, we still have work to do to make sure our own house is in order. This report sets out a robust framework for both. I am grateful to the staff and students who have helped shape this approach at such a critical time in the fight against climate change.”
A permanent Socially Responsibly Investment Engagement Monitoring Panel, chaired by Professor Mary Ryan -
Interim Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) - has been established to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations and ongoing process. The panel will oversee the development and coordination of monitoring tools, as well as advise those at Imperial who hold relationships with fossil fuel companies on the engagement process during the initial pilot and beyond.
Sustainability is a central pillar of Imperial’s Academic Strategy. Last year Imperial launched its Transition to Zero Pollution initiative – a new research and education programme designed to inspire fundamental changes in areas such as the way materials are used in manufacturing, how we produce food and energy, and will help mitigate the impact of air pollution on people's health.
Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial, said: “To address the climate emergency, we need to see a radical shift in industrial systems, technologies, and business models in the energy sector. At Imperial, we have the knowledge, expertise and influence to help deliver that change. We cannot sit on the sidelines. These bold new measures provide a credible, forward thinking and joined-up framework for us to make a meaningful difference in this sphere. We will hold ourselves to account as much as the companies we work with.”
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