TWO YEARS ON... Emissions Impossible Divest-Invest
In this final edition of his monthly blog, Vice President Robbiie Young reflects on the past two years of organising on the Divest-Invest: Emissions Impossible campaign.
When I first became the Society and Citizenship Officer I had no idea what fossil fuel divestment was. Two years on, I have come to view it as fundamental to my role and the struggle for climate justice. With that in mind, here are just five reflections � there are so many more � on how the campaign has progressed:
1. We have gone from 27 commitments to 66 in less than 2 years
Whilst in the process of updating our Emissions Impossible: why divest to invest template paper, we had before us the numerical progress of the campaign: in September 2016, 27 institutions had committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment. There were just 14 when we launched our investments research report. These commitments now amount to 66 (!) and consist of 44 divestments from all extractor fossil fuel companies, 22 from coal and/or tar sands - and 13 to reinvestment. In this academic year alone there have been 15 new commitments, including from the long and protracted campaigns at both Cardiff and Durham. Every new commitment now brings us an inch closer to half of all UK universities having made some form of divest-invest commitment - which we believe can be achieved by the end of 2018! Huge congratulations to everyone who has been involved in co-creating this movement - from grassroots student organisers and student officers, to university staff and alumni.
2. Strengthening our partnership with People & Planet has been phenomenal
Working with this formidable grassroots organisation, who began the campaign in 2013, has been fundamental to teaching us how to organise on this, and our ever-strengthening partnership allows us to provide the best support possible to campaigners. Our co-development of the Fossil Fuel Declaration, for example, has bought 11 universities into the movement so far � with more in the pipeline. Alongside this we have co-hosted and organised strategy days, conducted new research into investments across the sector (see their fossil free scorecards and university league pages), made a joint submission to the University of Cambridge�s Divestment Working Group, and received national press coverage in a vast array of outlets, including the Times Higher Education, the front page of the Financial Times and OpenDemocracy. Through these joint media pieces, we have further chipped away at the social license of the fossil fuel industry, building upon the stellar work that on-campus organisers are undertaking every day.
3. We have broadened the campaign to include Further Education Colleges
Over the course of the campaign we have developed 15 bespoke resources to support campaigners � five of which have been created in response to officer needs this past academic year. In a bid to bring FE Colleges into the campaign three of these are for FE organisers, and include a campaign outline and briefing. We launched these at FEstival in November, alongside our launch blog which highlighted how �bringing FE into Emissions Impossible: divest-invest [had] long been an aim of NUS� [�] We know our FE members can play a significant role in furthering the existing successes of the global fossil fuel divestment movement.� This remains our stance and we look forward to working with our college members to get divestment campaigns established and succeeding on their campuses.
4. The narrative has shifted
Organising on divest-invest for so long has taught me the organic, fluid nature of organising for a different world. I have experienced the transformation of the educational sector divestment narrative from scientific-focused concerns about climate change, to one that demands a decolonised, just transition based on collective liberation. This shift is seen in our guest blogs from NUS liberation officers and our platforming of frontline voices wherever possible. From linking up with the UK Tar Sands and Indigenous Environmental Networks on the National Day of Action called by student organisers and supported by NUS and People & Planet, to ours and People and Planet�s South Asia Frontlines Webinar in Go Green Week, to our most recent attendance at an event about fossil fuel imperialism in Latin America and resulting blog. There�s still loads more work we need to do on this to ensure our solidarity is meaningful and not performative, and we continue to prioritise this.
5. We are exploring community energy
Alongside Solar SOAS, we are in the process of trying to develop community-owned, student-led community energy projects on UK campuses to transform the 13 reinvestment commitments made into meaningful action that support the just transition to a low-carbon world. At present there are interested and engaged parties at five institutions. Our Community Energy Briefing seeks to support this work. This is important because reinvestment into large scale renewable corporations - which often have their own set of ethical issues associated with them - stops us from achieving another aim of the divestment movement: shifting power from the financial elites into the hands of those organising at the grassroots. OUR universities should be reinvesting into community energy projects based in the Global South, as well as using money from fossil fuel divestments to support the establishment of student-led community energy projects on campuses. This would not only support reinvestment that is decolonial but also the just transition to a low-carbon democratised energy system.
As I move onto pastures new, I look forward to seeing how the divest-invest movement progresses from here. In solidarity with all those organising for a just and equitable future!