The University of Oxford has just become the most prominent institution to join the growing campaign for divestment from the fossil fuel industry. This stands it in contrast to the likes of Harvard and Yale - the two richest US universities - who said that divesting could endanger their financial well-being (Stanford, however, has already divested). This is the first time the University of Oxford - already a leading force in the global fight against climate change - has taken a clear stance on the divestment issue.
But the success is a qualified one. Oxford has ruled out future investments in coal and oil sands (the most polluting fossil fuel sources) from its multi-billion pound endowment, but said it would not divest from all fossil fuels, as thousands of students, academics and alumni are demanding. Moreover, it currently doesn't even hold any direct investments in coal and oil sands. The University’s failure to divest fully from all fossil fuel companies has prompted a number of prominent alumni - including Jeremy Leggett and George Monbiot - to hand back their degrees in protest.
Nevertheless the University’s decision is a step in the right direction (albeit a smallish one), and a symbolic victory. Given the University’s global esteem, its choices will hopefully influence other investors to act similarly in the fight against climate change.
"Oxford may be the greatest university on our planet, and if anyone thought its great age might keep it from shaping the future, this decision should prove them wrong," McKibben said in a statement on 350.org’s website. "Today it has offered great leadership on the crisis of our time."