Bristol University calls on pension firm to divest from fossil fuels

The university was joined by groups representing staff and students in writing to the USS pension scheme

The University of Bristol has called upon the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to divest its £1bn stake in fossil fuel companies by 2024.

The university, in collaboration with the Bristol Students’ Union (Bristol SU) and the local branch of the University and College Union (Bristol UCU), called on the pension scheme to withdraw its investments from the industry in the next 48 months. 

Last year, the university was the first in the UK to announce a climate emergency and reported it would begin divesting its fossil fuel investments as far back as 2018. The university said its process of divestment is now complete. 

In a letter addressed to USS trustees, the university said the investments “appear to be contrary to the USS Trustees’ claim that the ‘scheme is run on a sustainable basis’”. 

The university said it was calling for the action because it breached its commitments to a climate emergency. 

“The environmental and financial risks of investing in fossil fuels have been recognised by many universities which have divested their own funds. It therefore seems contradictory for them to invest the pension contributions of their staff in a scheme which continues to invest heavily in fossil fuels and carbon intensive industries,” the letter explained. 

It therefore seems contradictory for them to invest the pension contributions of their staff in a scheme which continues to invest heavily in fossil fuels and carbon intensive industries
– Bristol University letter to USS

The letter maintained that the USS investments “pose a material risk to our planet” and claimed that as the world transitioned away from fossil fuels, the pension firm’s £1bn stake would likely “become ‘stranded assets’”. 

Robert Kerse, the University of Bristol’s chief operating officer, said: “Collaboration between students and staff has been instrumental in bringing about this change. Our community is now focussing on the £1bn of fossil fuel investments held by the USS pension scheme.

“Today we have signed a joint statement between the University, Bristol Branch of UCU and the Bristol Student Union calling on USS to exit these investments over the next four years and urge other institutions to join forces between students and staff to do the same.

“The resources owned by fossil fuel companies pose a material threat to our planet and could diminish in value as the world gradually reduces its use of fossil fuels.”

James Thompson, president of Bristol UCU, said: “UCU has campaigned vigorously for a decade on climate change, building alliances with students and environmental organisations. We are proud to join with the University of Bristol, and People and Planet, in calling on USS to divest from fossil fuels.”

The letter defines fossil fuels as: “Non-renewable energy resources, including oil and coal, which release carbon dioxide when they burn, adding to the greenhouse effect and increasing global warming.”

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