The Scottish university becomes the first in Europe to divest £18 million in funds from the industry
Glasgow University has announced that it will withdraw £18 million in investments from fossil fuel companies and sell all of its shares within the decade, making it the first university in Europe to do so.
The campaign for change was led by a climate-conscious student collective called Glasgow University Climate Action (GUCA), who managed to enlist the support of over 1,300 students to make their voices heard. Now, they've very publicly shone a spotlight on the future of the fossil fuel, forcing other universities to ask some hard questions about where their funding is coming from.
GUCA's message was future-focussed: this planet cannot go on eating itself. We spoke to one of the campaign's founders, Zivile Mantrimaite, about the campaign, her role as an activist and how it feels to have won.
How did it all start? How did your campaign begin, and how did you come together?
Zivile Mantrimaite: GUCA was started way before we actually launched this campaign. The global campaign is actually created by 350.org and is called Fossil Free. Here in the UK it's driven by (student campaign group) People & Planet. We wanted to change the situation in terms of our university's involvement and so linked with these groups.
How does it feel to have secured victory?
Zivile Mantrimaite: It feels amazing because we became a part of a change not just in the university but in the world as well. We've made our university the leader of divestment not just in the UK but also in Europe and led its students to a sustainable future. Also, this year has been so busy for us. We've contributed as much as we could to it, so winning the case was hugely rewarding for our group.
Do you think this current generation is thinking enough about the future? How could we be doing more?
Zivile Mantrimaite: Personally, I think this generation is aware of what is happening in the world regarding to the climate change. However the comfort that we are experiencing now is stopping young people becoming more active and fighting for their own future. In my opinion, in these times you sometimes need to shock people to get them thinking about particular issues. Furthermore, raising awareness of how to live more sustainable lifestyles should never stop.
Was it a struggle to convince the university to divest? Were they reluctant because of how much funding the companies were providing?
Zivile Mantrimaite: We started a petition and got support from over 1,300 university students and staff. We did lots of research on our university investments, and how it could re-invest as well as how it could raise awareness on the issue. In April, the university recognized our campaign by setting up a working group for the case, but the first court decision wasn't a success. There were lots of questions about the economic reality of divesting. However, we've got our campaign back on track after this, by researching and pushing the university even more. And finally we reached it!
Are you proud this was a student-led protest?
Zivile Mantrimaite: It doesn't really matter if it's student or any other campaign. Anyone who makes divestment happen should be pleased with themselves. In addition we are really proud of our university, which recognized us and didn't turn its back on its own students.
What's next for your campaign group?
Zivile Mantrimaite: We will definitely continue working on the divestment case, following it and pushing the university to reach the goal as soon as possible. Also, this year we have lots of fresh faces in our society, and we're hoping that new people will bring original ideas as well as identifying what else needs to be done around campus. Environmental issues and climate change will always exist, thus there is still much work left, which we will plan over the next couple of weeks.
Individually, are you pretty positive about the future of the planet?
Zivile Mantrimaite: I'm very positive about it! If I wasn't I wouldn't be working and campaigning towards the better world!