Why has the LSE broken its pledge on divestment?
The recent decision by Kings to fully divest from fossil fuels and armaments by 2022 has once again raised the issue of divestment within the zeitgeist of London students, and highlighted the stagnation of progress on the issue here at LSE. Despite the deeply alarming conclusions of climate scientists, amongst them the venerable Lord Stern and the Grantham institute both based at the school, LSE has failed to lend itself either to the movement, or its principles.
Divestment is mobilisation around the aim of ending investment in fossil fuels and other destructive industries. So far $2.3trn have been divested from the fossil fuel industry. LSE positions itself at the forefront of social justice issues, and yet in its divestment avoidance is failing to support the abandonment of investments in processes that will lead to the destruction of the entire planet.
The school, in fact, already pledged in November 2015 to divest from tobacco, armaments, tar sands and coal, in a statement that read “The School will seek to progressively reduce its investment in funds which indirectly place its endowment in companies significantly engaged in the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands.” Yet, more than a year later, evidence provided by LSE indicates that the school is still heavily invested in these industries. Information obtained through FOI requests shows that LSE’s funds are invested in companies such as Exxon Mobil, Imperial Oil and BP, which all mine tar sands, as well as BNP and Rio Tinto which mine coal. Further examination of JP Morgan Investment holdings showed investments in BP and Shell. Despite widescale consensus on the damaging effects of both tar sands and coal, the school has exhibited no sense of urgency. And despite frequent meetings of both the investment and ethics committee, and persistent accompanying pressure by students at said meetings, the school is dragging its feet with no clear signs of a severance as yet.
Whilst clearly committing to dropping arms investments is welcome news, the divorce from environmental responsibility is deeply worrying. If a university which has publicly committed to a moderate programme of divestment, and that publishes information corroborating the necessity of doing so is not delivering, the hope of halting the impending apocalypse seems fleeting.
Though the endowment of the school might remain in relative terms, a “small figure”, the symbolic ramifications of divestment would be exponential. By refusing even to publicly support the notion of divestment, the school is hindering a process which is necessary to salvaging our collective future.
Once more the opportunity to manifest the conclusions of its own academic research has been passed up by the school. Perhaps even more damningly the school, through its failure to commit to its pledges and absence of transparency is failing in its democratic commitments, and obscuring its social role.